Now the oceans
are mapped, we sail deep
into strange continents where people
are small and grey, where most never leave
the parish of their birth. Up the hill from the port,
I rub at the window of the shop with a soaped cloth;
Mister Vasquez leans in the doorway, his soft body bulges
under his shirt. I stop for a moment to look down the hill at
the white sails of ships; the boats come in full of sugar, flax
and cotton from countries that no one has visited. I pronounce
a name, try to imagine its people: flax and linen from the Baltic,
oranges from Greece, Colombian physalis. When the window is
clean, I scrub with a broom at the pavement, at the red dust
caught in the grouting, the red dust smudged on hands and
faces, settled over clothes. He yawns in the doorway and
as I polish the black tiles on the shop front, I dream
of the marketplace: green and purple vegetables,
silver strung beads, blue bottles of elixir and
medicinal powders made by a woman
living high on a hill above boats
sailing in, the port. [End Page 121]
Fortune Favours the DaringHernán Cortés
His indigenous vassals knew nothing of swords;
eager to grasp the blade, they took the sharp edge
renting skin. All told were one hundred sailors,
not many ladies, five hundred soldiers, sixteen horses,
a few harquebuses, muskets, and ten bronze canon,
not counting Malinche with tongues of Spanish and Mexican.
Cacique by birth, her heart was a great muscle to dwarf mountains;
only a fool would have thrown together such ingredients:
ripe chillies and meat fried for a ravening scent,
the blackened cacao for the white fat of men's eyeballs.
Encouraged to choose, she could watch disenchanted
softening chillies for their hungering, lingering smell. [End Page 122]
Dyma'r Wyddfa a'i chriw; dyma lymder a moelni'r tir.
They said: Why do you want to go to that place? There is nothing
to see. And I said: But I like its name. It means "snow" and "death."
It has something to do with the colours of red and green. So,
they were talking about the war, the table still uncleared
in front of them. Centuries of hate divide the Severn channel
from the Welsh. Far away, dark before the shining exit gates,
some place was waiting, its features unrecognizable.
I was born in the place on a slope few see that falls westwardly
like the feel of a pulse in the dark when I stay up all night.
Its name—how impossible! A piece of grass on the tongue
kidneys slipped from silk or striding the night for speckled eggs.
But me your work is not the best for—nor your love the best,
nor able to commend the kind of work for love's sake.
I am a settler East of the River, but back I have come
wintering in a dark without window at the heart of the house.
Zoë Brigley has a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing (first class) and an MA in Gender and Literature (with distinction), both from the University of Warwick, England, where she is now a Postgraduate Fellow. Her poetry has been published in the Heaventree Press New Poets Series and in a variety of magazines and anthologies. She is currently editing an anthology of poetry, Bluebeard's Wives. Her first full-length collection of poetry has been accepted by the UK press Bloodaxe, and will be published in 2007.