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Finisterre Sonnets

Finisterre Sonnets

Erguete, miña amiga,

que xa cantan os galos do dia!


Federico Garcia Lorca


Men are casting out or mending together
the green nets that are their livelihood:
instead of glass, shell, and stone
the sand is littered with a thousand shoes
as if the ocean was emptying itself
of them forever. Still in the dark,
boys on the wharf play with German lugers
and machine guns, ratt-tatting
at the tourists who hurry by for a bus.
Skeins of hake, tropical daintyfish,
already the catch will suffice till nightfall.
Surrounded by broken uppers and soles,
I sit on the belly of a skiff
and breathe in the first of morning.

The bay is swamped with octopus, divers
with sickles and bags of shells.
A pilgrim takes a picture of the wooden cross where
an ocean meets the rising shore.
Carved into one side, the heavenly sister
is weaning a child, and on the other
he's full grown with a beard,
walking over water and wearing
the bloody crown of thorns.
I can't yet see to beyond his life
where a woman is smiling, and others
with baskets on their heads walk against
a wind that sings of the next wanderer
to pass and leave a better word.

In the distance, Ría Corcubión
where a galleon was dug up only yesterday
and the fish oil waft from the marketplace at Cee,
which sprawls in pink trotters
and baby blue-wattle turkey-hens
who look like Satan's messengers.
You can't hear what's going on
in the cetarea, the giant
" Boy " crabs maniacally inching
from one corner of bunker
to the other. But sky is what matters here,
from clouds to color to the imagination
beyond; the panopticon of sky is what
funnels the fire down into us!

A mealy calico walks the cat path
in broad daylight, pelting out an aria
to Iocaste, the primal screamer,
weaving like a confused bat out of hell,
an anxious sister of some upper atmosphere.
She picks her way carefully
through mussel shells, slips down
to the valley of the crabs.
Sooner than I expected, and all
at once, a gang of the town tomboys
skits along clean-whiskered,
stinking of halibut, and happily
disappears over the embankment
after her, into the long, green weeds.


Men in French berets line the cutting docks,
leaning upon their sacks and lobster pots.
But I was watching the larus glaucoídes
who chose not to fly or pick through litter
and fish bones, standing alone along
a promontory of the alabaster reef.
With her great blue-backed wings extended,
she cracks her gullet, lets out a creech
which turns all heads earthwards, all
music of closure back towards heaven.
What is it she's saying or singing
or trying to swallow, as she opens
her throat for the longest guffaw-cry
of utterance that ever reached my ears?

Women crouch in rust rubber boots along the sand bars
in twos and threes, the pull of the moon
working their fingers into the holes
the tiny razors left behind.
They knead at the flesh of the clams as if
it was their own, a wakening
energy of sex. I could see of some
their bony knees, the one part of the body
that makes me weep the bones
it spurred a million years ago.
Even the younger boys with delicate lips,
leaning on clam rakes with querulous eyes,
were nothing next to the navajeras,
with their skillfully shifting thighs.

Loud-speakered voices at Sunday morning mass:
a crimson-dressed crone in a pillbox
enters the yard, strewn with chamomile.
A photo of her, when she--Maria Inocencio--looked like still
the primavera rose. We see her silver-toothed smile,
tree-ring wrinkles from years of planting caldo gallego
over the grave of her husband, lost at sea,
lost to the impossible swordfish.
And next to him, a Benedictine monk,
some Falangist bakers, drunken cabinetmakers.
Each in his turn has settled into the stone
of this tenement of the not-to-be-forgotten.
Each in his turn breathes a sigh of relief when
a new one steps up to the altar of San Guillermo's Hill.

Murmuring surge; whelk-horn borne of waves curl

in long tongues along bayous of this Celtic earth,
to the bleached beach where you rot in the winter sun,
shadows your face casts among tide pools are
the tropical shadows I grew through far, far back
and across this wine-black sea. Drunk as we are,
and lovers half into a half-made circle of glistening kisses
on pale white breasts, you draw us here to one dry lick
of sand to lie on, far from bottomless pits of squid.
Your bleached skull is a warning that too much love
might turn this wine back to water of the River Muros.
Or maybe naught but the trick quiz memento mori
we try to discover in each other's smiles
as the sun bleeds red and sinks beneath the sea.

He shrugs and tries to shoulder them off.
But they cling like barnacles,
crouched into pockets of his wind-worn chin.
What is left of him
are the upper arms and head, eroded
into the wall which is laced with broken glass.
All that we have forsaken
is that which we might have forgiven
or forgotten, he seems to say.
As for the snails, carapaced
and striped with striations of geologic time,
they too have their destination.
Another century and they will have reached
his eyes, the place where they can sleep.


Was it here by the Apostles' chair, above the cliffs
at the extreme verge of a shelf-worn continent, that I first saw
the blue-winged crow, where John and James sat
and watched a ball of Roman sun obliviate into ocean,
curlicues of breakers rising up out of nothing to smash
against the metamorphic bogs of northern Spain?
Which vowels can sound this crash of surf on coral reef?
O, A, U, the smell of the peat mixes a sot salt spray,
as an old poet from Compostela swims her flabby
barnyard piglets out amidst the thrall and pull
we'll never imagine having to succumb to.
The rock called O'Centolo marks the remains
beyond the flat lands of Columbus, and the shadow
of the jaded crow keeps soaring seaward.

© 1987