Chinchón

Trees in this landscape 
signal the presence of a river. 
A side road leads us on— 
parched grass, a rock horizon— 
and winds us towards 
a town watched over by 
the blind eyes of a ruined castle: 
This is Chinchón. 
December a week away, 
the place is half-deserted. 
The square that can be converted 
into a bullring or a theater 
awaits the arrival of actors 
to perform the piece by Lope de Vega 
promised on the playbills. 
We sit in the bar of the parador 
in the midst of a floral display 
on blue tiles, over a drink 
that creates a circle of warmth 
in the growing chill 
and is also called Chinchón. 
Aniseed. Anise is 
what these dry fields feed, 
with its yellowish-white small flowers 
and licorice-flavored seed: 
we are drinking the distillation 
of Spain—a certain pungency 
which is not unsweet, like the heat 
and tang in the Spanish aspirate. 
The sky looks down on our departure 
through each one of the blind eyes 
of the castle. The car 
is a lost beetle in the vast 
spreading amplitude of Castile 
expanding around us. Snowflakes 
over the far Guadarrama 
feel for the mountain spine 
that reaches to the heights like a line 
of surf suddenly breaking on the peaks. Below, 
burning stubble in the fields 
is turning the twilight blue 
and losing the thread of the road we are on, 
Chinchón lamplit behind us, Chinchón gone.

 

Swifts

Swifts do not sing: 
what they do well 
is sleep on the wing,
moving always higher and higher
in their almost entirely
aerial existence, alighting
only to nest, lay eggs,
rear their young and then
back to the airways
to teach them there
the art of high-speed darting
with narrow swept-back wings
and streamlined bodies:
when swifts descend
they cannot perch, they cling
by hook-shaped toes
to walls and so crawl
into sheltered cavities, into gaps
in eaves and church towers
where they can nest. Summer visitors
they seem always about to leave
and when they finally do
scream in their hundreds
that the time is now,
that the south awaits,
that he who procrastinates
has only the cold to explore
for those succulent insects
who are no longer there.