Thursday, November 24, 2011

Charles Tomlinson / Two Poems

Charles Tomlinson
Two Poems
Swifts do not sing:
what they do well
is sleep on the wing,
moving always higher and higher
in their almost entirely
aerial existence, alighting
only to nest, lay eggs,
rear their young and then
back to the airways
to teach them there
the art of high-speed darting
with narrow swept-back wings
and streamlined bodies:
when swifts descend
they cannot perch, they cling
by hook-shaped toes
to walls and so crawl
into sheltered cavities, into gaps
in eaves and church towers
where they can nest. Summer visitors
they seem always about to leave
and when they finally do
scream in their hundreds
that the time is now,
that the south awaits,
that he who procrastinates
has only the cold to explore
for those succulent insects
who are no longer there.

Trees in this landscape
signal the presence of a river.
A side road leads us on—
parched grass, a rock horizon—
and winds us towards
a town watched over by
the blind eyes of a ruined castle:
This is Chinchon.
December a week away,
the place is half-deserted.
The square that can be converted
into a bullring or a theater
awaits the arrival of actors
to perform the piece by Lope de Vega
promised on the playbills.
We sit in the bar of the parador
in the midst of a floral display
on blue tiles, over a drink
that creates a circle of warmth
in the growing chill
and is also called Chinchon.
Aniseed. Anise is
what these dry fields feed,
with its yellowish-white small flowers
and licorice-flavored seed:
we are drinking the distillation
of Spain—a certain pungency
which is not unsweet, like the heat
and tang in the Spanish aspirate.
The sky looks down on our departure
through each one of the blind eyes
of the castle. The car
is a lost beetle in the vast
spreading amplitude of Castile
expanding around us. Snowflakes
over the far Guadarrama
feel for the mountain spine
that reaches to the heights like a line
of surf suddenly breaking on the peaks. Below,
burning stubble in the fields
is turning the twilight blue
and losing the thread of the road we are on,
Chinchón lamplit behind us, Chinchón gone.

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