Girl Reading Lorca at the Mirador San Nicolas

A poem by Pete Hay

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Published in ‘Girl Reading Lorca’ (2014)

 

Granada, Lorca writes,
draws to its ancient walls and waters
those of a temper
melancholic, contemplative.

At the Mirador San Nicolas
the coral white of the tower
unbearably focuses the day’s high heat
on the brown body of a woman
who sits reading Lorca.
She is walled within the poet’s world,
alone with the breeze that comes
from the old hills of the Alhambra.

The Church of San Nicolas
is so clean, so white,
it surely casts no shadow.
It has summer’s uncomplication.
The girl reading Lorca ignores it.
She would spurn, I imagine,
this meditation on the simple,
hearing, more complexly,
all Granada singing at once:
rivers, voices, foliage, processions…

A gang of bikers comes to the Mirador,
all beergut and noise, with hair
as stiff and gunmetal as their Harleys.
They roister with backs to the Alhambra.
They do not see the bonfire of saffron, deep grey,
and blotting-paper pink of its walls.
None are reading Lorca.

The girl reading Lorca ignores the bikers.
How she does this is as mysterious as the town.
The heat and the glare and the blackjacket noise
batter my inner gates.
I seek the city’s hidden song,
its lilt on the wisps of the wind.
Granada is withdrawn, enclosed,
apt for rhythm and echo,
the marrow of music.

I want to peer over her shoulder
to read the poem she reads,
but that would be misconstrued.
Does she sleep the dream of the apple?
Is she a dark child,
wont to cut her heart on the high sea?
Does she read the great poet
into the walls and small surprising streets
of a city fit for dreams and daydreams,
a city with an atmosphere full
of difficult voices, an air so beautiful
it is almost thought?

The girl reading Lorca reads on
through the surging heat.
She ignores San Nicolas and the bikers –
and, it occurs to me now,
she also ignores the Alhambra.
The bikers straggle to their Harleys
in a fug of merriment; roar away.
The girl reads on.
We consult maps, strike
through the heat for Puerta Nueva,
for we must leave, but Granada remains.
Eternal in time, but fleeting
in these poor hands…

I look back.
In the day’s high heat
a girl is reading Lorca.

The Possums in the Book of Kells

A poem by Pete Hay

Published in ‘Physick’ (2016)

 

‘A strange group of animals’. Mice perhaps,
or kittens perched bizarre upon adult backs.
That does stretch a long catgut, O my fuddled scholars!
They are not mice. Not cats. Not remotely. Soft-eyed,
wet- and sharp-snouted, prehensile-tailed, marsupialine,
these are the possums – the ringtails – of my ovata bush.

Across Wallace’s Line, westward night-lumbering,
they cross mountain passes, the sinking isthmi,
skirt treeless sands, thread belts of forest mast by mast,
shrink past the yellow eyes of cunning hunters,
breathe silently in the roof-tree dark
of trading dhows, junks, proas, triremes.

And fetch up here in Brendan’s Fair Isle,
cosy and secret in the shadowed cloisters
of a County Meath monastery.
They have made a monkey out of Wallace –
and of my compadres who sell them short.
Tomorrow New Zealand. But today the world.

 


Just too incredible? Well, it is of course. But go to folio 34, recto (plate 107 of the 1974 Thames and Hudson edition). ‘A strange group of animals’ is Francoise Henry’s observation in the accompanying commentary (p. 199), and the long-standing if tentative identification of the animals as ‘mice’ or ‘cats’ with ‘kittens’ is also reported there. Henry thinks ‘kittens’. I, meanwhile, have certainly played fast and loose with the truth in the final line. It is the brushtail, not the considerably more delicate ringtail, which is now feral and much-hated in New Zealand.

 

Caucasian Haiku

A poem by Pete Hay

Published in ‘Silently on the Tide’ (2005)

In any village
Massacres in muddy fields.
Sorrow-ridden lands.

Tanks roll here, roll there.
Geopolitical tides.
Gentleness of boys.

Always ragged breath.
Always a footprint in moss.
Always a fraught song.

“Give me the music
Of the lost folk of Europe.”
Score the wind, wailing.

The sere autumn grass.
Secrets in walls, in steeped stone.
Mute and crawling light.

We are forgetting.
Sunken holes in the forest.
All that grows in blood.

Grievances tended.
Turnips in kitchen gardens.
Streets of boiled sausage.

Wolves, or rumours of.
You die young, or you should have.
The old fled children.

 


I had a small but not unimportant role in Richard Flanagan’s movie, ‘The Sound of One Hand Clapping’. I loved Cezary Skubiswewski’s proud and passionate soundtrack. I once asked Richard what instruction he gave composers who tendered for the movie’s score. His answer was ‘give me the music of the lost folk of Europe’. That striking remark inspired this haiku string.