Poems from The Spanish-Italian Border by Róisín Tierney (Arc Publications - 18 March 2014)
The Only Hue
Yellow the bitch with morning sickness
yellow the queasy tint of dawn,
yellow the book and yellow the sun,
yellow the chair I'm sitting on,
yellow the sunflower, girasol,
yellow the field of rape, a full-on
retina-punching whack of yellow,
and a softer yellow the corn.
All the painterly names for yellow
line up, jostle, elbow each other:
Ochre, Tuscan, Cadmium, Chrome,
Lemon, Flanders, Sahara, Buí…..
Old Yeller was yellow before he died,
and yellow's the Rosa banksiae.
One of our bantams turned yellow, for love;
yellow's the fox that dreams thereof.
Yellow are the eyes of the turtle dove
that puffs its breast and croons and trills.
Gauguin loved yellow, his favourite colour:
his Christ is yellow with mute tristesse,
his Breton women rake green-gold hay
against a yellow Breton sea.
And many a token of love is yellow,
a yellow ribbon, an amber ring,
a bowl of lemony apricots,
a yellow apple, perhaps one bite
taken from its perfect curve,
a straw-coloured trickle on a loved one's chin.
So when we set down this aromatic quince
which seems to emit a halo of yellow,
as its fecund scent pervades the room,
the apple of love takes many forms,
its pome can thicken, and must, wherever,
regardless of when, or who, or why, but
always has this colour, golden, yellow,
bright, abstruse, a light-shower, shaken
perhaps from the sun or the yellow moon above.
Whatever. We'll rest in its honey-glow
awhile. Its trust. Its thrust. Its acid-yellow probe.
Softly they settle round me now,
gentle birds come home to roost,
dropping and shuffling one by one
onto the desk, open drawers,
heaped directories, nursing tracts.
They do not breathe, but we might
be swapping breath, in for out,
so close they are, so present. They
are weightless, obviously, and yet,
so great their need, or mine, we press
forehead to forehead one by one,
each for a second only, until
we have all touched. The hospital,
Victorian and beautiful, is still.
My list is cruel. Their various ends
'Hanged.' 'Fell from a height.' 'Overdose.' etc.
make for hard reading. Some were very young.
Many received the best of care. I sigh.
We, the Suicides and I, put down
our books, pens, burdens, leave the building.
In an Empty Alcove in the Prado
We took turns posing, you a stately pharaoh,
carved in stone, blank eyes focussed
on nothingness, or a desert haze,
one hand raised up, in a god-like blessing.
I was Jesus, in the painting by Velázquez,
knees crossed, on tip-toe, arms nailed wide,
head hung low, and all my hair
covering the one side of his beautiful face.
As we left we solemnly agreed,
the picture we would nick was Duel with Cudgels:
one boy beating the shit out of another,
though bad feng-shui, would nicely do our salón.
Near the memorial, on the Puente,
we saw a man, who saw us seeing him,
and hit a sugar low. We debated then
the unpredictability of the glycemic index.
Sugar. Coffee. Wine. In Bar Bieri
we hammered out with Miguel and his friend
the many deficiencies of Tintoretto,
apart from his Susannah and the Elders
where sympathy and innocence combine.
And for a moment (let’s blame the wine), it was as if
all the characters of the paintings in the Prado
were crowded in that bar in Lavapiés:
a mad queen rocking at her table,
a huddled group, well gone, straight out of Goya,
a child with hydrocephaly, tiny clown,
our waiter’s regal air, his noble forehead.
Her pearl-white skin proclaims her innocence.
Perhaps it was not virtue but distaste.
The elders would have hated her, whatever.
We raised our glasses, made the usual toast.
The Spanish-Italian Border
For Simon Barraclough
When you first mentioned the villa on the Spanish-Italian border
to which we might abscond, and there live out our lives
in a utopian idyll of sun and passata,
I instantly saw in the far, far distance,
among sheep festooned with golden bells,
a whitewashed house, a vine covered trellis,
a sun-dappled patio, a lemon tree grove,
whispering natives, with a strange patois,
their kindly gifts of dried goat, wine,
and us conversing over their heads -me in Spanish, you in Italian-
with many accompanying gesticulations.
And somebody knitting, perhaps, in a corner,
the bony needles clacking and clicking,
as you spit on the floor and I pound the table
and one of us smashes a glass to the wall.
Friend, we are both in the heat of our lives –
let us kiss, then turn ourselves back to back,
I’ll face the Atlantic, you the Adriatic.
Let us each stride out for our separate countries,
yet know that our hearts are sunk in wool,
bound by a skein that will never unwind,
to be always connected through our mutual love
of a fairly exclusive, unheard-of language,
that we’ll always meet up, in far-flung places,
as yet unmapped, as yet unfound.
You can read an interview with Róisín on the Arc Publications blog.