Sunday, January 29, 2012

Amy King

Every Era Builds Character 

When Ramiro Clemente sold his photo doctored
for my first book to me on the streets of Barcelona,
I learned the way to say ‘Barthelona’ with a lisp
and embrace a closer view of what it means to be
completed by the brick walkways off the golden path,
not only by my own American tight-knit security
club of what-goes-on-here-is-designed-with-me-in-mind.
Even the skulls in the archways were not made of light.
What surfaced when Ramiro sold the photo down
river to me, the swelling American taken in
by Gaudi buildings on every corner and gypsies
running at crossroads, splitting into threes with stolen wallets
plus my friend’s passport?  I’ll tell you what surfaces
fell apart when I dipped into Les Quatre Gats
and discovered Picasso would never cross
the threshold of this kinked-up version of why
tourists pay too much to drink here.  Absinthe of the weaker
green and mugs with black cats in gold overlay
populate the view, sculls and white caps of ashy chalk,
to be abandoned in a word, forever, as one
beginning to make sense.  In modern day cities like Barcelona
women still steal your money while men do it too
with the underhanded charm of decades past.  Even the jewels
are made of dusted-off sass, polished at the heels
of fierce flamenco dancers we paid pesetas to dance with.
I stayed in the Gothic Quarter neighboring the Jewish Quarter
when I walked small alleys and avenues wider than what
today’s Paris has on offer.  But before I took the train in,
full of vomit and beer from tin cans, up from Seville
after Malaga, I saw the still-ancient places where women
with gilded yellow teeth are as old and as populous
as the olive trees in fields cracking with limbs the horizon
between everywhere and here.  They reported through
crafted smiles that every era builds character and no one
was ever less informed than the previous or next.  That I
would do best to learn this trick, the back and forth of clocks
means as little now as how much it takes to see a Gaudi
cathedral, which is no cathedral at all, but a basilica built
from a design of the man’s, not by him, one hundred
years after the architect’s expiration.  That we think
at all is a small miracle to be experienced in any large city,
including one full of gypsies and mammals and chickens
for sale on unraveling sidewalks.  That visit I danced
with women in fiery skirts from Sweden and Spaniards
from hillsides I likely would never visit.   I rode
in a burrow-drawn cart around a body
of water pushing at the city, one with a death date
I’ll never swim in, unless I drown soon, and struck
matchsticks in restaurants that served thin fleshly strips
of wild boar and sangria beside salted shrimp tapas.
The world opened its maw wide to Barcelona, and I swear
if I had not left to breathe in the entrails of Paris, I would
have met the next Picasso wandering in Malaga or Cordoba
and taken him back to a Barcelona villa, where we would
squat and grow food on the rooftops and paint the woman
from a photo that would eventually turn into the poet’s
next book cover, already in half-borrowed progress.


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