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Travel Diary I (2005)
6 Nov 2021

Travel Diary I (2005)

Post by Rowena Hill

Read the SPANISH version

TRAVEL DIARY I 2005

City-hopping

Downtown towers –
variations on chromatic scales
with leaps and dribbles,
ragas set in glass and steel.

Chicago at night from the air

Glowworms in a cave,
incandescent gold beads
strung on daggers or festoons
against the darkness.
Letters of a mystery
greater than electricity.

Watching people at LA airport

Skin sags here in flaccid creases,
mocking the sweetly structured bones

there bulges into threatening folds
and barrels of obesity,
obliterating features

and elsewhere glows nectarine taut
with leavened youth.

Who said skin deep is not
an abyss?

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Astonishing creatures
named by resemblance – egg yolk,
lobed comb, gooseberry, nettle, crystal, moon –
as someone strained to encompass

the beauty of throbbing trailing
guts and brains
almost as liquid
as their sea surround.

Noguchi museum, NY

Water sliding down a smooth stone,
peace trickling down the skull,
seeping inside.

All these stone have organs,
visceral charts of how to lift them
and perfect their planes.

He could read through rock.

Tate Modern

Exposed to greedy space
on the clanging staircase round the metal tower
that hides a mother image

a real baby mounts,
soft in fragile arms.

Is there enough care in the world
to keep it safe?

Canary Wharf, from Greenwich

Milky tea and a scone,
then round the corner to the station
where the ride starts on the tall toy railway
between the pompous Lego buildings.

Alhambra

Angles signify, and proportions,
modulating from key to key
as the suite unfolds.

No present language can dissect
the unquiet harmony.

near Altea

Smells of pork and almonds
surround an inn;

ripe figs burst in the sun
on tawny terraces
below a deserted farmhouse.

On the other side of the hill
is the towering concrete cancer,
Benidorm.

Sunflowers

Field after field of huge yellow flowers
tidily turn their blind black eyes of seeds
toward their god;

just one, near the edge, equally tall,
looks the other way.

Gaudí’s house

Withered and lined,
my features still have a natural
affinity with this mirror;
it places me in a room where I would sit
(dressed in one of mother’s tea-gowns)
expecting a different future.

La Pedrera toward Sagrada Familia

Beings from the sphere before names
loom and glitter on the roof
and strain to see with unhatched eyes.

Beyond an arch of virtual limbs
two lucidly ornate spires
reach for a later heaven.

Santa María del Mar

Step in from cluttered streets
(stone harnessed to fit stone),
space inside balloons –
emptiness in the skull
or an underwater canyon between reefs.

The salt smell hovers round
idols unobtrusive as seaweed.

The church I dreamt

Thick gold columns rise
wound round with bright green creepers
to the night of an unfathomable vault.
Tendrils stretch into the nave.

The church is its own altar
and its own goddess.

San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo

Something is happening here,
a mystery is being enacted
in plaster and stone
but we have no key for it.

The knots in the coffered ceiling
trap pieces of magic truth,
and we don’t know the password
for the lion’s heraldic maw

or how to converse with the gargoyles
crouching on humanoid haunches.
The corner masks on the stairs
are laughing at us.

The herbaceous garden
is divided into neat quarters
by cross paths,
and shimmers grey-green and silver.

Toledo Cathedral

The sensual women

– sirens, tavern-keepers –
on the grille across the sanctum
warn against blasphemy.
The blasphemy is inside.

San Esteban, Salamanca

The rearing gargoyles see
the whole monstrous joke:
emptiness and dancing atoms.

The solemn prophets,
leaning into their roles,
see nothing at all.

Rock of Cashel

Royal names heaped stones
century after century
on top of the rock.

Rooks occupy the wind,
plummeting and veering
like joyful rags.

Connemara

Turloughs withdraw into themselves,
jump invisibly to hold the light
somewhere else, cunning as kings
or bards’ rhymes.

Helsinki, coming up from the metro

Space in an unfamiliar configuration
shocks, but it’s only cold air in a wide curve
between cliffs of sedate buildings.
Is the sky barbaric?

Seminar

The papers drone on and on.
Between me and the window

– expanse of rare blue sky over
a city waiting to be explored –
a sweet masculine profile
is also out of reach.

Tallin

The cold sunlight slants
through autumn gold
on to round towers in stone walls
and bushes with white berries –
searing beauty,
as senseless as a dead language.

Ataturk Mausoleum

Elegant hubris
all the way from the lions up the parade
to the green pyjamas.

Diana of Ephesus

The marble bats on your headdress
are more immediate than nature;
they almost unfold the wings
of your night.

Caravanserai

Skylit dome over
cavernous, moldy darkness,
pigeons, ghosts of camels,
a shadow breathing Rumi.

The domes of Istanbul

One perfect, two perfect,
…three, four and more perfect –
strenuous reconfigurations of inner space,
geometry aligning brain cells,
and no way to spell the differences.

Lakshmanjula

The river runs alive and powerful
out between the thighs of the mountains.

The files of people crossing the hanging bridge
in both directions without pause

– sadhus, donkeys, brightly dressed women –
look like souls avoiding contact with time,
passing above the world
on a rainbow.

But in the end all of them
will go down to the water.

Rajarajeshwari

Someone dressed her in flowers
and smeared her face in sandal paste.
Her parted lips are a passage
to the sky,
she laughs amazed
at her own grace
and the enormous need for it.

Peepul

Big birds, little birds
trace the distances point to point
inside the branching canopy
and seething population of leaves.
Around the foot passers-by
have left flowers.

Ramesh Kalkur’s studio

Past the blackened lingas
at the street shrine,
past the cows and cowshit
and up the steep, narrow stairs

the big mottled canvases
are a shocking measure
of exploding vision.

Paintings of Satish Sholapur

Transmuting devastation
into beauty of soil and sheen,
for a moment they reconcile grief.

Then their questions rise again.

Mahashivaratri at Kanchuru

Flames leap in the pit,
the priests chant and sweat.

By a bridge adorned with oil-lamps
like incandescent birthday cakes
God leaves his shrine.

Live lights flicker on flowers,
bright cloth and skin,
idols and eyes.

Arunachala

The midday stillness of forests
is waiting for the great one to pass,
elephant or tiger
or god hung with pennants.

On this scorched mountain
even the stones know
he has already walked here,
and their plenitude hums.

Peacocks in Bandipur

They strut in easy circles,
skirting each other,
scarcely agitated,
then suddenly leap high,
their breasts clash,
they descend in a lovely slow S of
blue-flashing feathers.

Not spots

If I was to be born a cat
(please, no humans on the planet)
I’d find it hard to choose
between stripes and rossets.

Veerapan

All stories lead up
to Veerapan and this is his country,
rocks and expectant forest.
Is he here now, his doberman limbs
and black iron heart?

Mahakut

Conflagration of gods’ lust
melted their interfering flesh.

Naked bone carved on gateposts,
they have the authority now
of the last word.

Bhutanath Temple

In the black magicians’ temple
eddies of acute happiness
condense and drip.

Badami fort

The temple is the unrelieved color
of the surrounding dust,
the diamonds that shed light
on the linga have been stolen
and the treasure pits in the fort
are full of thorns.
The passages smell of bats.

Kalawwa

The mystery of generation,
a tiny oblong bundle,
lies on her outstretched palm.
Her tragic heroine’s eyes
bombard it with their rays.

Bylakuppe

Prayers flags flap and fill
straining like sails
in the tropical wind;
scarves thrown in the air
soar and settle like birds;
sparrows perch in the crook
of golden limbs.

Jodhpur

The little blue box houses
levitate out of the dusty hills
pulling the white ones after them.

Vietnam

The color of Vietnam
is rust red –
the dust of country roads,
mounds of dried shrimp in markets,
a faded flag,
memories of blood.

The Bayon

“Here,” said the motor-bike driver,
“Buddha and Shiva are good friends.”

The towering headdress,
the inward gaze,
the fine lips that sneer or smile
as the light takes them

know and contain all doing
to a degree of violence
at the darkest border of wisdom.

Kbal Spean

A thousand years ago
a thousand round lingas were carved
in the stone bed of the stream.

The yellow butterflies
celebrate the linga as flower.

Siem Reap market

All parts of the lotus
from fleshy stem to shower-head seedpod
are sold for stewing;

live eels squirm on the floor;

rows of sandals on stands
offer feet severed at the ankle
with bright red nails.

Puppets in Yogyakarta

Sang Yong Wenang
only moves one arm
but he rules in shadow and full color
over gods despotic elsewhere.

Bangkok Museum

Cracked at the rim
the pot still contains
a thousand years of perfection.

I stand in front of it
and watch it spin itself into being
on my heart beat –

atoms of earth and flesh
clustering and resolving
into symmetry.

What I covet


in this tile on the temple wall

– colors of sky and forest
muted to garden shades,
gorgeous, delicate birds –
is not the ceramic square
but the life to go with it,
all its flesh and furniture

and how can I rip that
from its setting?

Bird market

The sweet rapture is too much.

The trapped wings are too much.

Mendut Buddha

The face up there is calm and remote,
torso erect and ascetic;

at our eye-level the thighs are soft
under ripples of fine cloth;

the feet go back to stone.

Australian bush

The plants are extreme variations
on the themes of trunk and leaf;

the taut string of silence
is tuned to a different note.

The bay

The waves press in like snakes
sideways rolling over and over under the skin
of the bay; near the shore
the wind plumes their crests.

Te Papa

The long stairway climbs to the booming wind
above the stormy sea.

At the turn, the house of spirits
tells the same stories.

Kelburn

Headlights file over the bridge
but down here among bushes and shadows
time changes.

Childhood aspirations
thrust out of the earth all round
and are mown or pushed down,
without pity,
with scarcely any thought.

The darkness is tranquil.

Home again

Glowing dark red or orange
more like flesh than cloth
solider than sunset –
fallen rose petals.

Read the SPANISH version

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