On a tour of Europe's history
this man is eating peanuts
fingers dipping with regularity
into paper bag, with skins, without skins
mouth opening closing, expressionless
Barcelona: Gaudi's masterpiece of the century
perhaps forever, eight monumental figures
human, superhuman, hymns of reverence
to the creator, stretch skywards above the city
dwarfing all, each centimeter a work of art
where faces peer from filigree encrustations
of magic in stone, revealing ever more intricate
delights. Armies of masons and artisans clamber
through its mazes, choirs of them pealing like bells,
tourists gape as the guide estimates forty years
more to reach completion.
Cameras flash, some buy mementos
he's eating peanuts again, head down,
looking into the packet for survivors.
Today is Istanbul,
stretched across two continents
an octopus of bridges, mosques, palaces, markets
riches and honking traffic, endless rows of restaurants
frown at hungry homeless, four thousand domes
and spires all praying in the morning mist
where the preserved splendor of sultans' riches
and harems hide legions of conquering armies
and then we turn a corner into colors, rugs, copperware
clothing, spices, halva, three-year old infants
begging in the streets, repetition
after repetition, pistachios, roasted meat
with yoghurt, chai tea, bottled water in ten sizes,
he's into the biscuits now,
crunches like a mechanical alligator.
Croatia flashes by, we pass through villages,
walls of houses crumbling moonscapes, bullet scars,
shell holes, children pitted against their neighbors of
yesterday, then rolling fields giving way to grapevines
and cloud topped peaks.
His fingers dip regularly, satchel open now
probing for replenishments, raisins,
potato crisps with red foreign lettering.
We pass a little cemetery set back from the road
between a grove of trees. He stops eating,
head turns like a cameraman following through the window
until we turn a bend and it is lost.
I feel the pain surge up like a spring of hidden water,
see your face appear once again in the tangled branches
of a tree, hear your voice, a cloud sighing on the horizon
lower you once again into that little grave, cover you
with a dun brown blanket, place a garland of roses, a few
stones by your head, set out to see the world, from the air,
from the waves, by bus by train, the months passing
in a blur, Amsterdam, London, Capetown, all the same,
identical citadels of impossible reflections, expressionless
dull grey slabs of pain sliding by in grief.
In Plitvice by the waterfalls, he stays in the bus, opens another
pack of peanuts. I walk past, then go back, sit down beside
him. He offers me the packet. Listen I say, I've been here
before, it was with my wife, many years ago, but now she's
gone. It's not much fun going alone. Would you like to come
with me. The water is so clear you can see the fish and
the petrified branches of trees under the water are white
Together we leave the bus, cameras in hands, looking for
all the world like two happy tourists.