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Arles cafe

If you know the pains of love,
in your grace, in your goodness,
knight, if to France you go,
ask for Gaiferos.

—“Melisenda”, anonymous,
medieval Spanish, translated by W.S. Merwin


They told me I would find you
in Provence, that small café in Arles
with yellow walls where Vincent
used to watch the sky, but every
chair and every eye was vacant so
I tried the hospital, the rooms above
the courtyard with the purple jonquils,
certain that I felt your lips against
my ear, soft cooing like a dove:
if you know the pains of love.

You must seek out St. Remy, said
an aged one so bent she could not see
my eyes, and so I gave her coin and
sped through avenues of sycamore
to where the medic famed was born,
whose dreams quatrained speak less
of doom than possibility. Oh, Prophet,
would you not use your gifts this once
for me that I might taste of happiness,
in your grace, in your goodness?

Too soon, the ship took me away
to Tunis and the village of blue doors
whose maze of streets with falconers
warned me in grave Arabic there is
no hope for one who searches
with confusion as her compass. Too low
you’ve set your sights. The raptor soars
with talons keen, she grasps her prey
with no apology; no doubts will show,
knight, if to France you go.

And so, full circle, round the sea
I come at last to where the cavalcade
began of dramas and small tragedies.
The sun is nearly overhead, the deck
serene—a swordfish leaps, a silver
gleam, a splash, you are that close!
In cape of black and yellow plaid, a passenger
broad-smiling brings a message. You are
she?—I am.—At La Fontaine Grosse,
ask for Gaiferos.


Dedico este poema a mis amigos madrileños: Ines, José Ramón, Carmen, Ana, y Marta.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

You can learn more about the medieval Spanish poetry form called glosa here.