Lisbon Suite

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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.