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2003 - Saloni M swims East


Lauren Williams

A born and bred Melburnian, Lauren Williams has been a recognisable figure on the Australian poetry scene for 20 years.

In 1995 she was invited to read at the 5th Festival Internacional de Poesía en Medellín, Colombia. Entranced by the language and traumatised by a bad translation, on her return to Melbourne she commenced and completed a Degree in Spanish language at La Trobe University. She has since read her own translations of her work in Madrid, Barcelona, and Costa Rica, and she returned last year to the festival in Medellín to complete the circle. The pamphlet of translations she put together for that event was titled Traducciones Bárbaras.

Other collections include The Sad Anthropologist, Bad Love Poems and Invisible Tattoos (Five Islands Press). Since 2000 she has convened the historic La Mama Poetica readings at La Mama Theatre. In 2002 she received a New Work grant from the Australia Council. Radio National’s ‘Poetica’ featured her work in November 2003. She has been working with Will Saldaña-Tellez (guitarist) for 3 years.

For the Saloni M swims East event on Friday, December 5, she presented:

the poem
Madrid, January 1998, with Will Saldaña-Tellez on guitar, and the poem Faulty Neon.




Madrid, January 1998

It snowed one morning on the Paseo del Prado,
snowed on the orange juice factory workers’
weeks-long occupation of the median strip,
their placards and brightly coloured tents.

Los Tres Reyes Magos parade, throwing sweets
to night-time streets crowded with families
teaching the kids how to stay up late
in this city of beautiful overcoats.

The glamorous beggar – good haircut and make-up –
sits on a blanket on the busy evening footpath,
the stump of her arm unpacked, the mutilated thigh.
Her stillness, blankness, bare-shouldered in the cold,
a picnic without food, lit by a window full of mannequins.

For breakfast, café con leche y tostadas; for lunch
alcachofas and a glass of red to warm the lonely siesta,
two hours when everyone’s en casa, except the turistas;
for dinner, sopa o tortilla; for supper, churros y chocolate.

The beggar with the permanent grimace of bitter woe,
weeping, crouching every day against the panadería
window full of sugar, crumpled handkerchief to mouth
and a photograph of himself, smiling, holding a baby,
mi hijo he cries, shaking a polystyrene cup, the dry slither
of pesetas. Later, I see him eating food paid for with
a face that all the winds can’t change.

Literary machismo – evening literature panel on TV,
nine men. Poster for the year’s monthly poetry readings:
eleven men and Gloria Fuertes, dead the next year
of old age, or from waiting her turn.

Literary fraternidad – drinking cañas and smoking canutos
with Manolo, Pepa, Luís, Manolo Segundo y Enrique, poetas
de la tertulia del Café Manuela en Malasaña.

Handwritten message on tiny squares of paper
photocopied into near illegibility, distributed to the Metro’s
captive readership: Soy alcohólico en desintox, buscando
trabajo pero mientras, una pequeña ayuda por favor.
Squares collected in time for the next stop, the next carriage.

Cante jondo at 2 a.m., a tiny club, the resident guitarrista
flowing endlessly, the older men step in singing and out
of the stream, their paternal air as a young man wets his feet.

Afterwards, crossing the Plaza Mayor
through the debris of another evening’s public entertainment,
a sleepless resident shouts ¡Basta ya las navidades!

Goya, Velásquez, El Greco, Miró, Picasso… nearby
in front of the exclusive hotel a trickle of vomit and piss
runs from the cardboard mattress, the grey puddle of blankets
with the blue hand that is not a painting.

Cheers from the windows of Lavapiés when Madrid scores a gol.
Human pavement crab, half-man on a trolley,
his fearsome, scuttling energy; the spare change fisherman’s
grisly bait, bare legs covered in scabs, laid out
in front of him like the day’s poor catch.

Old lady street vendor selling plastic-coated religious cards.
I buy La Virgen de la Esperanza Macarena and an angel
watching two children cross a plank over a chasm.
Later, a car doesn’t kill me by a fraction of an inch.

At the open air booksellers’ market, a woman feeds
a red squirrel that lives in the tree beside her stall.
Bruja, she calls it tenderly, witch.

One morning the factory workers’ tents are gone,
placards abandoned, defeated by cold or moved on
by the law into history. Instead, men in overalls
with chainsaws and cherrypickers litter the ground
with severed arms of trees. All that firewood, too late.

In the Retiro, three ancianas like black ships of death
tack towards the tall foreigner, selling sprigs of rosemary,
para la memoria, as if I could forget.

Faulty Neon

© Lauren Williams 2003.

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