November 3rd, 2007

La Alpujarra 1-3

La Alpujarra is the work in verse I'm proudest of. Its genesis was this. My sister brought pictures back from Spain- from Andalucia- and I wrote poems for them. I've posted individual poems from the sequence before but it is a sequence and there are echoes bouncing around. There have been stories in the paper these past few days about how  the Pope is beatifying a job lot of religious people who were shot by the Republicans and also how there's a project underway to dig up and properly commemorate the victims of Franco's firing squads- and I feel like I'm being prompted.

But Lorca still lies where he fell......





Snake- we do not care for snake

Is not like us- is a very bad creature.


Says the book.


                             The book is miffed

At very strong snakes of bronze and copper,

Fat with electric, healing jizz,

Snakes that are god.


                             A coolness takes

The awning.


                   In the darkness donnas

And, fiddly-fiddle, a wireless set

That talks in  snake-speak. Beautiful hissings.




The first night I dreamed about prisons.

I blame the sky. (It was like a sheet

Of white hot steel.) and the altitude...


But next day we were picking figs

Along the valley. And every village

Sent out its dogs as an honour guard.



Under the slope of tumbled stone,

Under the dusty, fiff-faff  trees,

A nook, a garden:

Its gate stands open,

Not as an invitation exactly

But as a careless act of grace

Here are medicinal

Herbs in pots

Under the shade of a walnut tree

And hung on a clothes-line out in the sun.

A pillowcase and a shift and a dress.

La Alpujarra 4-6



Hypocrisy is sometimes merely

Good manners,


                   Or should we turn that round

And call good manners hypocrisy?


He was, I’ve read, urbane himself,

A typical bourgeois-  Drinky-drinks

And a dog at his feet.


                             My favourite picture

Shows him sighting a hunting rifle

Straight at the camera.


                             Who do you think

We’re going to meet when we round this corner?

Could it be Fernando Rey

In a nice white suit? “Hola, Fernando.”

Could it be the parish priest

In his broad-brimmed hat? “Good evening, father”

Could it be a yellow dog

With its tongue wag-wagging, dispensing drool?

Pad, pad, pad, not quite a wolf,

But not exactly man’s best friend either.





Enters the church,

His coffin carried

By cruel princes.


Hear the kettle-drums,

Doom, doom,

Hear the trumpets,

Hear the conches.


Riches, riches,

Rot the heart;


Was exceedingly rotted.


I would not want

That rotted heart

Of Cristofero’s

To be beating near me.


Doom, doom,

Doom, doom


Goes to the tomb.


His fame flaps

Like a flag on a beach

And booms like a cannonade

Fired at mountains.


6 . NADA


Roy Campbell

Fought for Franco,

Fought for the lovely Catholic Church,


For the cool vision

Of John of the Cross,

For water ticking on cool stone,


For lovely darkness

And lovely light

And nothing, nothing, nothing.

La Alpujarra 7-9

7.  FLAG


As lovely as an army with banners-

The women who are not here.


The heart lifts at the flap of a rag,

A something feminine, pinned to a line.


A block of sun. A block of shadow.

The block of sun in the shape of an adze.


Multiplied by walls and walls

The flap of a flag,


                             the tick, tick, tick

Of an old breech-loader


An oiled procedure:

Cartridge out. cartridge in.


Waiting for the tread of the soldiers


Out of the shadow into the sun,

Out of the shadow into the sun,

Out of the shadow into the sun...




This is a way of finding the brain’s

capacity when the brain is gone


(Eaten by worms):


                             You fill the skull

With tiny glass beads then pour them out

Through a funnel into a measuring jug.

How the stream rustles.

How the stream shines.




The dragons of Islamic art

Twist and coil like a map of the brain.


The human brain is built in layers

Around its basic reptile stem.

We’re dinosaurs that have been recycled.


Nothing is lost. All things return-

Not in the same configurations.

See. Among the immortal stars-

(It was the Pole Star, will be again)-

Alpha Draconis

La Alpujarra 10-12



A legend of the high sierras:

On a certain night of the year

A traveller in a certain valley,

Empty of folk for centuries,

Happened on a footpath leading

Through an orchard of knobby trees

Into a village of Berber houses-

Lights behind their shuttered windows

Voices flickering  like snakes.

Suddenly a tall, old man,

Levelling a brass-bound musket,

Stepped from the shadows....


                                      Right. Stop there.

A whimsy fuelled by a bad conscience

Is all this is. There are no Moors

In the high sierras and haven’t been

Since their catholic majesties turfed them out

Almost five hundred years gone by.


Maybe the grief of the dispossessed

Pools in the valleys, maybe not,

But whimsy is the wrong way of treating

A tale as raw as this one is,

One that is going to be unresolved

For just as long as the tambourines

Get smacked for Christ and boys in madrassas

Bob their heads as they chant the Book.




Doesn’t it bother you that we hate you?

Bother you that we think you’re stupid?

What the hell is all this about-

A church dug out of a bloody big rock

By prisoners of war who hated the job

And hated you and thought you were stupid?

Shouldn’t a church be built with love?

Pharaoh in spite of what you were taught

Wanted his pyramid built with consent

And paid his workmen bloody good wages.

Hate has filled your church with horror.

It looks and feels like an air-raid shelter.

It looks and feels like a secret bunker,

As full of dread  as it’s full of corpses...

O you fascists,

Your brains are dull:

You thought is stiff,

Your path is straight,

But we, your enemies,

Move like snakes.




The secret is there is no secret.

What do men want? What do women want?

Quien sabe?


                   In comes Time

To sweep away the derelict flirts

With his besom broom. And what do they know?


Glitter and shadow.


                             It was so fine                 

To be looking down from the balcony.

Our men had reputations so

They muffled their faces.


                                      Feminine smiles

And laughter: they are sinister

And damn attractive.  Even the toothless

Laughter of crones is so damn attractive

La Alpujarra 13-15



They dug for  jasper up on the hill-

And still might it anyone cared.


A cloudy stone, its colour varies

From dried blood to ocean grey.


The miner’s house has lost a wall.

Also its roof. The door is bolted.


14. GOLD


I think that gold is an ugly metal,

Like hard cheese with a deep shine.

I prefer the warmth of copper, the breezy

Shiver of silver. But what makes gold

The thing above all that turns  men evil

(Columbus building  the Indies into

An early Dachau, or Cortes knocking

The Incas over ) is metaphysical.

Gold seduces us into believing

That when we grasp it we’re grasping time

Because it survives us without developing

Even so much as a bloom on its skin.




Dig a grave through rock?

I think not.


Hence this wall of graves

Like lockers.

The breeze comes riffling up the slope

Searching for coins and cartridge cases,

Condoms, buttons and cigarette stubs.


The hawthorns shiver like tambourines.

La Alpujarra 16-18

 16. DREAM


Hack away at matter till

You can hack no more and what do you find?

An irreducible grit or spark?

No;  you find nothing. Nothing at all.


Which goes to prove what John of the Cross

And all those other smart Alecs said,

That everything I rap with my knuckles-

This wood, this metal, this thick, glass screen,

This bone of my head that’ll  take so long

To fade in the earth- is just a dream.


But who’s the dreamer. Does she know

She’s doing it? Can she change things round

To suit her mood? Can she choose for instance

To colour a young girl’s genitals blue

And her forearms green- as Lorca did?




They made a play of it

They made a ritual.

Invitations were issued to all of Spain.

The tiers were restless.

The green, green bones and the rusty shrouds,

Puppets in corduroy and leather,

The nightingales that fanned the air

Were restless.


They drove him up in a black car

Not to be buried.

He wore his pride like an overcoat,

He wore his love like a tilted fedora.

Minotaurs and majas applauded,

All were his creatures.

Cabbage roses of gored flesh,

This was the tribute.


They set him down at the cemetery gates

Not to be buried.

And if one asks where Lorca lies,

Show her the mist above the river,

Show her the road through the orchard dew,

Show her the crags of Andalucia.

They ruined him like a millionaire.

They scattered him to the crowd like silver.





You, little streamlet of Mary,

Little twisting snake of the mountains,

You who have watered shepherd and flock

Since shepherds started, you lift our hearts

And speed our climb, there is no shrine

In all the mountains as bright as yours is


gracias, gracias,

gratia plena