Gerald Hill

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Lisbon Suite

By Gerald Hill

1

 

O Vento / The Wind

 

O vento please

take back your winter

men and women in deep coats

emerging from the metro, flights

of clothes that shiver on their lines,

empty chambers of Cathedral ,

colder than any word.

 

O vento where do you go, around that corner?

What’s down Travessa

do Amargemfor you?

And if you’d just speak up

I could hear what they said,

the lovers from the café walking so

slowly up the street toward the light.

 

I’ve seen a thousand times your voyage

of discovery, your familiar ocean.

If I had the stone I’d build

a statue if I had the hands.

O vento you’re the one who builds

the stone, the castle,

the empty fire in the anteroom.

 

O vento, blood of rainy avenues,

destroyer of boughs, king

of the frightful rains, release

the scarves from around our throats,

our gloves and tall boots,

our tight and ancient bodies from the cold.


 

 

 

 

 

2

 

O Mar / The Sea

 

 

 

O mar, oh my,

I’m a stranger reading

your book of powers

from the highest of the seven hills,

my eyes aimed over your

sailboats and ferries, your oily ships.

 

I hear you, o mar, at the ferry terminal

waiting for your lift and carry,

what one shore sees in another, 

deep as stories we’ll one day tell, o mar,

Lisboa lit as if brand new,

and ships that hang like clouds.

 

When night becomes a private place

o mar do you rush up to greet

its drag of light?  Like a fine cafe

on the north shore you open after dark,

set out the candles and glassware, tune

the music smooth while out the back door

kitchen staff in black aprons smoke and read

the football scores.  Who knows o mar

where your darkness leads,

 

but the moon leaving

traces in your bed.

 

 

3

 

Océu / The Sky

 

 

 

O céu I see you

pray at the cathedral

or did you sleep there all night

on cardboard by the great door

dreaming your own darkness?

 

Where is the poet Pessoa interred?

At Prazeres?  Were you there?

J.D. Salinger has died, were you there?

Do you know these things?

Who’s buried in your clouds,

were you there?

 

I think we’ve met somewhere before. 

I recognize the view south from Baixa

through the bridge to that full moon

tucked in your lower pocket

and the English tourists on Tram 15

to Bélem, you’re fine

in their photos, nothing between

them and you.

 

May I borrow your many moods,

your cafes, o céu, and sidewalks,

the voices of shops, schoolchildren,

a woman’s heels, a driver’s

sharp alarm, the tram blocked

at Conceiçǎo and Douradores?

 

O céu I see you

with my eyes closed

blue in this land of brown.

The afternoon shines.

When I leave I’ll give you the last of my coins.

How could I leave you, have I ever?

 

 


Gerald Hill is a professor of English at Luther College at the University of Regina and an award-winning poet. He recently took a sabbatical, travelling and writing in Portugal and Spain. The "Lisbon Suite" set of poems was written in a hotel in Alfama, the centuries-old Muslim district of Lisbon, Portugal. In the poems, Hill works with a doubled understanding of the word "o": both "the" in Portuguese and, of course, a traditional element of address to the beloved in English love poetry. These are love poems to Lisbon, in other words, that claim to speak directly to sea, wind, and sky, which are as lovely in Lisbon as they are anywhere else.