I watch the oak in the hearth,
the solid force of its flame,
the peaceful burning of its counsel.
At times from those flames you can hear the groan
of the bark, like a new-born foal.
An oak log on the fire, on stage
King Lear, on my lips a sonnet
by Garcilaso, in my thoughts always
the first woman who brought me love.
He says: I like to write with dirty hands,
to conjure the dawning curse
of the poem as yet unmade.
I look after the chainsaw, have a smoke
with my father, we talk of the earth,
the field- next month we cut the grass and cow-pasture-
the trees: down there hazels,
over the wall pears and apples,
the plum by the gate
a fig tree, the cherry with its fruit
black, and two chestnuts by the well.
My son, my wife, my mother drink
and laugh in the shade of a beech tree.
He says: I love my family, this land
which smells of the sweat of my brow
the eternally grey sky and mist,
the sea proudly enthroned like a goddess.
However, in my thoughts I weep
for the country of night-stalking creatures
where I was born, grew up, struggled and am dying
where all I am to date lives
this sodomite nation of hetairoi,
fucked over like a bitch on heat
by the slaves who inhabit her neighbouring lands.
He says: I love my family, this land…
suddenly the skies cloud over
and it starts to drizzle. The whore groans
and during the rape, she weeps.
Xosé Antonio García
This poem has a grip on me even though I don’t understand it.
It starts with a homely enough image of the poet sitting by a wood fire taking consolation from the flames. We even know what is on his mind: King Lear, a sonnet by Garcilaso de la Vega, the great sixteenth-century Petrarchan poet and the first woman who brought him love. King Lear, the tragedy of tragedies, sets us up for a change of tone. This is not going to be a homely poem after all.
We are introduced to another speaker who says he “likes to work with dirty hands” and calls the poem a “dawning curse”.
Another change of tone finds us in the country on a sunny day. It is a family scene and the poet is with his family, his wife, his son, his mother and his father. He is talking about the tasks to complete in the fields and in the trees with his father whilst the women sit with the little boy.
Then we are suddenly returned to the second speaker: “He says: I love my family…” Is it his father who is speaking then? Is his father also a poet? “This land which smells of the sweat of my brow.” This sounds like the man who is talking about cutting the grass, doesn’t it?
If we stick with the idea of alternating stanzas for alternationg voices in the next we are back with the poet. He is desperate now. The peaceful vision is shattered as he weeps for the land of his birth where he is now dying. I had trouble with the word “hetaira” and am willing to stand corrected by I take him to be referring to the hetairoi who were Alexander the Great’s household cavalry. When Alexander conquered Persia he held banquets of sybaritic luxury. Since he was also known for his relationship with Hephaistion, who may well have been his lover, this explains the “sodomite nation” that is being “fucked over like a bitch on heat.”
Where has this poem gone since the opening image by the fire? It seems to be spinning out of control. It is like one of Lear’s mad rants: crazy, violent, distorted. Finally we are returned to the second voice, the second poet, who could be his father for the terrible ending of the poem: the conjunction of love of family and raping a whore.
The poem has a grip on me. Even though I don’t understand it I have a sense of where it comes from. Who, driving along the motorways in Spain and seeing the brothels, euphemistically signposted “clubs” in neon writing, has not wondered at the scale of the sex industry here? Who uses these prostitutes? The kind of men, certainly, who could say, “I love my family, this land…”
But the poem is not a simple sentimental reflection on the lot of prostitutes. The burden of the reality is all in the top part of the poem. We know more about the trees than the prostitute. I can’t get away from the visual and kinaesthetic sense of the whole poem weighing down on her in the last two lines, from the flame at the top, down through the literary references, the house and garden, the hysterical diatribe about the sodomite nation, and in those last killer lines the one who weeps.
I thought of it because I read this blog this morning about another poet who is having trouble in his relationships with women: https://sarahxcerta.wordpress.com/2014/10/18/notes-on-gregory-sherl-the-world-makes-me-want-to-hide-in-my-bed-but-i-was-raped-in-my-bed-this-is-how-you-end-up-on-fire-this-is-how-you-end-up-dead/
It seemed to fit, although I know very little about Gregory Sherl and only used this as a literary source.