That day, as I remember,
there was rain, yes, skyfulls of it,
streams becoming rivers
and all the bridges swept away.
And between each deluge
a thousand birds sang in a thousand holm oaks.
Never had birdsong sounded sweeter
than all those finches, larks and linnets
chorusing an early spring.
And the cranes, what about the cranes?
Hidden at first, then lifting from a field,
cross-shaped, gliding with scarcely a wingbeat,
their clattering calls fainter and fainter.
I followed a full moon to Cañaveral
by a lonely path on a high plateau,
lurching down a gully through the dark,
the batteries of my headtorch failing.
Loud martial music blared —
I don’t know why, or where it came from —
across the town, and then stopped suddenly.
A ghostly silence in the long main street.
Then clamour of voices in Hostal Málaga.
Opening doors, I walked from one
acutely etched experience to
another. The bedroom cold and narrow
as a coffin, the radiator not working
as usual, the cramped bed suited
to some ascetic saint, the dusty curtains
rough and stiff as a hairshirt.
Escaping to the comfort of a bar,
delighting as ever in the role
of the mysterious stranger,
I gazed hawk-like, fooling myself
I saw the meaning behind the meaning
of the bread, the wine, the pork steak
and the fried potatoes, the kind stares
of the drunks on their stools
who never seemed to get drunk
but gawked over their San Miguels
with curiosity and, I felt —
after I’d gulped one or two
large vinos — with love.
Later that night, in my cold
and miserable room, I put my arms
around myself, as if I were
holding a woman, then drifted into dreams
of rain, empty roads, and stepping stones
submerged in rivers and swollen streams.
(The Vía de la Plata is one of the Spanish pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela.)