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Journey to Relleu

Jim Dening


Relleu is a small town of pre-Roman origin in the south east of Spain.

1) (The journey south)

Always beginning again
it has taken so long
arriving in the wrong place
other people seemingly ahead
while somewhere down the road
are sunlight warmth the best ideas
longing to combine flesh with spirit
by instinct we look towards the sun
cannot gaze upon its eye
blinking at the after-image
following the masters of knowledge
in uncertainty.
Spurning absurdity let us wait
with the patience of animals
and see only what we have to see
hear only what we have to hear;
the wagtail picks its flickering flight
neither learnt nor understood, but done;
the cat spares movement when it walks
ignores attention if attention
is a waste of time; we call this
the excellence of nature.

2) (The slipperiness of the city)

On the esplanada at Alicante
we walk upon the waves of the sea
the city is full of swirls and holes
my eyes and ears of commotion
all that is asked for is paid for
the comforts are too great
here we will stick fast
in the sociable embrace
of placid afternoons.
Only in memory or hope
is all luminous or speedy.
The museum hangs images
of strange distractions:
an unknown worthy of the city
gazing from his dark interior;
the hopeful saint half-kneeling
in the harmless wilderness
gazing on the absolute;
a woman rapturous in flight
from an unseen ravisher on the left
outside the picture frame
towards another on the right.

3) (The terraces on the hillside)

The ancient terraces from antiquity
decayed and inviting
form a kind of ladder
as far as the slope can go
failing only at the precipice;
like points on railways
there are junctions and divisions
oblique connexions
side-tracks and dead ends;
I was on one of these
yesterday or any other day
and see the figure over there
the neighbour or the brother I never had
in the mist of memory
gliding on the slender ledge
supported by elaborate walls
a long array of flat stone faces
features washed off by rain
the very life squeezed out of them

4) (The stations of the cross)

We never thought of testing
how the pendulum might react
before each station of the cross;
violently it had swung
beside each terrace end
along an old de-cultivated slope
suggesting a change of force
a renewal of the wave
a memory of water
along the contour.
Testing what test of faith?
Who needs to know for sure
where waves of devotion have unfurled
or in what fervent spirit
the soldier’s faces were defaced
or where the bearers stumbled
and the crowd cried out
but recovering kept the monstrance
from touching earth
or if the lame threw off their crutches
or if a voice was heard within a cloud
that rested like a spaceship at the top?
Or other voices asking what would be the bar
be open when we all came down?

5) (The Forest of Words)

Behind the red door
within the ancient arch
a father takes his teenage son
to see his women friend,
she will help the boy.
It is what many men might wish
their fathers would have done for them.
Presently the boy skips home
he will tell his mates tomorrow;
the father goes back the narrow way,
round the shadowy ravine
through the plantation
where the almond trees murmur
and words lie fallen on the ground.
The leaves are thick,
the sun arrives in snatches -
he trips upon a root,
tumbles, puts out a hand;
when he gets home
he finds almonds in his pocket
and unknown words
are rising in his mind.

6) (The ruined castle)

By the garage corner on the wall
there is a convex angle mirror
meant to help a vehicle emerge;
by accident you sometimes see
the ruined castle on the hill
caught in the mirror upside down
as if it had moved and posed,
performed a clever trick
just to attract attention;
no point in shuffling to it on your knees
or pushing a pea up with your nose
it is not a holy place
merely a relic of violence
with battlements reverting
to the rubble they once were,
a thousand pilgrims
pushing a thousand peas
would not transcend its lowliness

7) (The ghosts of friends)
If we could learn to switch
the focus of our eyes
along the road, we would behold
our old companions;
we think we hear their voices
but they are as a stone rolling
a dog barking
the leaves whispering;
we glimpse their shades flitting
in the riffles and the puffles of the bushes.
There comes one. He was, the last to go
of my friends he is wrapped up
around his heart and guts
where it went wrong for him
now he is drifting off
he was always avid
he used to have a lot to say
I can’t make out his words.
While I am in this place
I will go and fetch my father
I have so much to tell him
he can’t be far away.

8) (The sun sends light into the ravine)

From the castle top they say
a secret staircase descends to the ravine,
to that very archway over there,
and in the passage there are exactly
one thousand and one steps;
it would be hard to follow now
the tunnel has parted in the middle
the two ends inside have whipped away
like snakes in dusty earth
to silent caverns filled with stones;
in any case you cannot start,
the entrances are blocked
with tedium and indifference.
Go on scrabbling at the door –
decay, disuse make powerful bolts,
and mind your foothold or
the crumbling earth will yield
and dump you in the rocks and brambles
bruises and bleeding scrambling
to get back where you began.
Allow the mounting sun
to warm your skin
and heal your hurt
and dry the ground;
as the work goes on,
hold still at transient noon, for then
you have no shadow.



'Journey to Relleu' is from Jim Dening's second collection of poetry 'Dealing with the Edge' (available Amazon.com). He is a frequent visitor to the Almassera Vella


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