Andalusian Wind

Sharon Dolin

Wind that roughens up the palms and the cypresses and the Esparto grass. And me.

• •

The only still thing: roadside cactus. And the one gray mare that stands all day in the field. Until she catches me watching her.

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Cactus mountain, who would ever climb you, except with the eyes?

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Here, in this semi-desert of thistle and aloe, everything made to conserve water: What is it you were made to conserve?

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Silence: the wind that surrounds words.

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How many more holes can a heart hold without shattering? Or do they join—as the mountain out my window, Mojácar la Vieja, whose summit used to be one huge receptacle for rain water. In this way a heart can be a reservoir of tears.

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He’s not dying. He’s struggling to live.

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Snails on the cactus. Snails on the Esparto grass. Snails on the walls of the stucco houses lining the dirt road. Hints of the sea.

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Palm trees on the stony trail. Hearts of palm for lunch. Oh my scavenged heart.

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The dictionary says nispero, the taxi driver nispola. Medlar tree. Now that I know the name of the tree bearing small orange fruit (so sweet) with a double pit, its blurry form has clicked into a sharp focus of relief.

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Algarrobo: locust or carob tree. Depending on the name, a different color to its green hanging pods.

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Show horses from Málaga stomping in the white trailer truck: the sound of Andalusian thunder.

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How to dance flamenco in a sandy corral: barefooted, flinging fringed mantones around the prancing horses.

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Looking for scorpions: What we fear most is what we most want to see.

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Cypress nuts that I keep mistaking for snails.

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As the poet who plunged down the volcanic cliff face, what’s to keep me on the sure-footed thistled path?

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When the Moors were here, did the Jews also sing their morning song?

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Oh five-fingered fig tree, will there be hands once more to taste the fruit in me?

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As water seeks its lowest level, after the laughter of evening, my spirit returns to replenish its melancholy bed.

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Only when returning from Death’s drowning pool would he give me his voice.

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After nine months we gave birth to our death. I have been in mourning ever since.

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If you keep straining to see what shape your life is taking, it will take the shape of your straining body.

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Mojácar’s beach in May is so deserted even your loneliness lacks company.

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The brown dog licks my knee: my only kiss in months.

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Pendant lemons. The breasts of Mojácar.

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Medlar in a net to keep the birds away—like the ringing of his unanswered phone to fence his heart.

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What the painter shows is her vision of things. The poet, the similitude of one thing to another.

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Or, the painter derives the color, however impressionistic, from the landscape. The poet takes the color of her experience and forms a landscape out of it.

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So much sympathy for the lone white mare tethered to her life—in the distance, Mojácar la Vieja—who always turns to look at me as I stroll past.

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What kind of man ends a twelve-year marriage with an e-mail?

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The kind of man who ended a previous marriage by leaving a note on the refrigerator door (This is just to say . . . ).

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The aphorist assumes that small truths can be packed into a sentence the way the olive packs its fruit around the pit.

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What if I have gone to a place where the truths I am searching for are like the fruit trees behind barbed wire. Or are the barbed wire.

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Or the hand-hewn stone walls that invite and repel.

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All those artists who say they are not in search of the truth have merely given up thema for anathema—which is a different kind of truth. As the writers proclaiming the death of the author always sign their books.

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Hispania (Spain’s name during the Roman period) comes from i-shepan-im: a 2500-year-old Phoenician word for Land of Rabbits.

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The European rabbit is almost extinct and the Iberian lynx—now endangered—depends upon it for food. All thanks to the French doctor who released Myxomatosis in 1952 to protect his vegetables from being eaten.

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Anguish: that the present is consumed with reliving—refiguring—the past as a way to figure out the future. All futile. All dead letters.

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So many wind turbines (at first I wrote turbans) on the hillsides on the way to Granada. Enormous white-winged birds with several long, energetic, rotating tails for spinning out dreams against the blue sky.

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So many dried-out riverbeds. So many exhausted metaphors.

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As though the more ardently I miss the belovéd, the more he will return to me.

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In Granada, a pilgrim’s anticipation of visiting García Lorca’s houses.

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LA BELLEZA ES TU CABEZA. (BEAUTY = YOUR HEAD.) Graffito in Granada.

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POETA

GARCÍA LORCA

Canción llena de horas

Perdidas en la sombra

Canción de estrella viva

sobre un perpetuo día.

Song full of hours

lost in the shade

Song of a living star

over a neverending day.

(Ceramic inscription on the street corner of Lorca’s childhood home in Fuente Vaqueros)

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At Fuente Vaqueros, no one o’clock bus back to Granada: the only way I am able to relax.

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In Andalucía, the palpable traces of gypsies, Moors, and Jews in Cante Jondo, the “deep song.”

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When the solitary woman on the beach in Mojácar said, This is really Murcia, not Andalucía, I didn’t understand. Now that I’m in Granada, I do.

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In Granada, people are as open as a split pomegranate: symbol of the city whose name means pomegranate.

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Alas, that the grenade took its name from the fruit.

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Mojácar lacks duende. Granada is its birthplace.

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The duende does not come at all unless he sees that death is possible. —Lorca

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Flamenco is a dance with Death. Bullfighting is a form of flamenco.

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Painters are content to let their palettes talk to the landscape. Poets need their pens to talk to the world.

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Small Ode to Green Olives

Small briny grapes

that taste of the sea

it has taken half

a century for my tongue

to dance with you.

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On Carrera del Darro, the bride and groom promenaded by on their way to church. Everyone clapped and shouted. As though their good fortune might rub off on us. Sixteen years ago, newly engaged, my fiancé and I saw a wedding couple at the Campidoglio in Rome. He said it would bring us luck. Within six weeks he was dead.

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Does more light bring more joy? If you let it. If you believe it. If you let the guitar strings become like the strands of your hair. And the sax, your spring voice.

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In Huerta San Vicente, Lorca’s summer house in Granada, his desk is large, his bed small. The view from his upstairs window: limitless.

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Couplet for an aborted ghazal for García Lorca:

I know nothing can revive you from death.

Except in Granada, your presence survives you from death.

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To dance flamenco with words: what Lorca did; what I aspire to do.

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Some rhyme between the raising of the flamenco dancer’s flounces and the torero’s passes with his cape.

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Let this be an ode to lotus-jasmine-rose tea in the Salón de Té in a patio of Córdoba with guitar, pillows, and an old Victrola. A floor of patterned stones and a well at its center and a fountain. Ply me with pistachios and dates. My love is sweeter than that.

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Inscribed over the archway inside the Salón de Té in Córdoba:

Hubo un tiempo en que yo rechazaba a mi prójimo si su religion no era la mía. Ahora mi corazón se ha convertido en el receptáculo de todas las formas: es pradera de las gacelas y claustro de monjes cristianos, tempolo de ídolos y kaaba de peregrinos, tables de la ley y pliegos de corán. Porque profeso la religión del Amor y voy adonde quiera que vaya su cabalgadura, pues el Amor es mi credo y mi fe. —Ibn’Arabi (1165-1240)

There was a time when I rejected my fellow man if his religion wasn’t mine. Now my heart has been converted into a receptacle for all forms: it is a prairie for gazelles and a cloister for Christian monks, a temple for idols and kaaba for pilgrims, tablets of the law and the scrolls of the Koran. Because I profess the religion of Love and I go wherever its horse wants to go, thus Love is my credo and my faith.

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After climbing la Torre del la Callahorra in Córdoba and seeing “los Patios” decked out with geraniums and sipping tea in a Moorish courtyard, there is little need for poetry. Little need for words.

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Which is the true desert: living in a land of cactus and lizards where people eye you with suspicion? Or living with a man who never says, “You’re beautiful.”? Who never takes your hand or says, unprompted, “I love you.”?

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What if the question was never, “Could I have done differently?” but, “Why did I abide with such rage masked as indifference?”

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What if wisdom consists in figuring out which are the right questions to ask more than knowing their answers.

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What if the more certain you are of the answers, the further from wisdom you are.

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What if Rilke was right: that to live the uncertainties is the only way to live yourself toward the answers.

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What if what pains you the most is being unable to control the past and having trouble seeing the humor in that.

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What if brooding on the past is the way you have always avoided the uneasy present, whose wingtips touch the fearful air of the future.

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What if understanding such things could make you stop.

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What if your stance toward life could be “What if?” instead of “Why?”

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What if, instead of asking, “What’s to become of me?” you asked, “What’s coming into being in me?”

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Or, “Look how I’m becoming more and more myself!”

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What if the one you say abandoned you really set you free.

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What if your heart now has the possibility of opening whereas before it was a maimed bird.

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Inside the fourteenth-century one-room synagogue in Córdoba, I sang Achat sha’alti (One thing I ask of the Lord . . . that I may dwell in his House forever), fragments of the psalm still inscribed on the wall.

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When a woman dances in her polka-dot flamenco skirt and raises her flounces, for whom is she dancing, if not her own duende?

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When she flings her shawl around her body, hasn’t she become the bullfighter of an invisible bull?

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What I aspire to be: one of las palmeras (those who clap and stamp out the flamenco rhythms).

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Lo que más duele

en la vida es aquello

que nunca te has atrevido a vivir.

—Seska

What hurts most

in life is that

which you never ventured to live.

(Graffito in the WC of Córdoba’s bus station)

• •

How many days have you spent never once taking in the air that stirs your hair, the bird song that laces through your thoughts.

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What it means to be an artist: to be a scavenger of the overlooked.

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Still life artists are the truest to their calling because they raise up the ordinary and say, “This!”

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The tide is going out. Is there still time to be renewed?

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Fear and worry: the twin waves in your current.

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Loneliness is not a condition or state of mind. It’s a metaphysical state.

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I am lonely, lonely, / I was born to be lonely, / I am best so!” Williams wrote this while his wife and baby and nurse were asleep in the house.

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Nor is there a voice

that distracts me and

takes me out of myself.

—Concha Mendez, contemporary of Lorca

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White caps at Cabo de Gata that Denise, the Australian painter, called white horses.

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As Wilfriede, the German painter, wryly recites, Rhinelanders know nothing, but can explain it all to you. Ich bin eine Rhinelander!

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How to shift the balance from feeling the absence of something or someone to feeling filled up inside by this present.

• •

Why are buses or trains the best place for writing? Because your anxiety gets soothed by its twin fixations: barreling forward as everything around you dashes backwards into the past. And you occupy the still point inside all that rushing past and forward, writing.

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For some, sitting in the midst of a busy café can do the trick. The buzzing and clatter in the surround can be a way to concentrate the self.

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There are some cities in which a person’s heart opens like a split pomegranate ripe with seeds. Granada has been such a city for me.

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Then there are cities—towns—villages—beaches, even—where a soul closes up to protect itself from the windy grit and the evil eye of strangers. Mojácar has been such a village for me.

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Finally, a flamenco who danced with joy. Young. With her polka-dotted blouse and ascot. Her hair always flying out of clips and barrettes. She flicked her hips like a fan opening and closing.

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When the six-year-olds were visiting the cave museum in Sacromonte, the gypsy quarter in Granada, one child was wearing a face mask to protect him from getting swine flu. On his nametag: Jesus.

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Young teenagers hanging out in Granada’s Plaza Nueva. One girl, to pass the time, casually snaps castanets—the way an American might do kickflips on a skateboard.

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The stuttering of the flamenco dancer’s toe behind him. If it weren’t dancing, it would be a very nervous tic.

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After North Korea set off its nuclear test, the seismologists in Granada measured an earthquake at 4.9 on the Richter Scale.

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How is it I seem to be drawn to darkness even in the midst of so much light? Is that, perhaps, my duende?

• •

Feverish on this, my last day in Granada, what more is there to do than to sit under the petals of a huge umbrella, sipping lemon water and longing for Sacromonte in the distance: its cool white caves, its rocky cactus’d slopes, its gypsy eyes, its fingers fanning castanets.

• •

The only good thing about being sick to the stomach is that one forgets one is sick at heart.

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What I will remember most about Mojácar: the stone walls as much as the winds and rough mountain scrabble. And the sea that would not let me in.

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A place that never opened itself to me. One I could never open to—no matter how many cactus paths I ambled. No matter how many dogs howled, menaced, barked, and greeted me.

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Each artist is leaving with found treasures: one with shells, another with beach stones, one with snail shells, another with a dead gecko, one more with Moorish pottery shards from the mountain. And I? Slivers of feelings. Shreds of thoughts. A few new names: Lion’s Tooth. Century Plant. Bone-lonely.

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It’s true I traded desire for security and a child. Alone, now, my desire revives, like a once-hibernating cicada. A desire for someone else’s desire for me.

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Snails now hang on the pipes Paul Beckett (late painter, owner of this artist colony) once smoked. His ashes in a periwinkle tin beside a rock.

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On the last evening, I take a hot chocolate on the terrace overlooking the hazy valley. Will I go home refreshed or merely emptied out? Drier. A bit tanner. Having learned that expectations are meant to be dashed.

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At the end of every trip there is always something I beat myself up about. Something I should have but failed to do, buy, see, or go to. A distraction from the grief and anxiety of departures.

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In your mind, you’re still having the argument with him. But there’s nobody there. The trouble with your marriage: For years there was never anybody there.

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Marina, the Russian ceramicist, gave me a clay bird I could make whistle. How much more I would have liked her companionship rather than this object fired at a heat beyond words.

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My limitless capacity for translating actions and words into a self-wounding.

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If we could only find the courage to leave our destiny to chance, to accept the fundamental mystery of our lives, then we might be closer to the sort of happiness that comes with innocence.

—Luis Buñuel

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