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Burning the Boats to Hesperion

No reason and No rhyme

Burning the Boats to Hesperion


The words of babes





Dad! You have to remember we're not in the twentieth century anymore!

I opened my mouth to speak

and found only remembrances of 79, 85, 95...

pointing my finger at my daughter,

I paused to say something,

and said nothing.


It was then that I heard my wife laughing.



old woman.jpg







“-You have to visit your grandmother. She’s weak now and won’t be with us for very long.”

said my father, while driving us in that December night.

I mumbled noncommittally and looked at the trees outside.

“She became frailer this last few months. You haven’t seen her for so long, so you don’t know.

She looks like a little old lady.”


Which was something strange to say about a 85 year old woman.


But not so strange if you knew her.







wholly unlikable.


When we were evicted and my parents divorced,

because when it rains, it pours,

me and my sister went to live with my grandmother.

much to the chagrin of everyone involved.

But mostly hers.


Our time there was one of abuse, spite and confrontation,

and waking to the knowledge that the ones that should protect,

sometimes bite.


We were told that her house was not like our parents house,

that, in her house there were rules,


and that, if we abided by them, all would be fine.


But this was a lie.


The rules were not there to rule the house,

but to change our behaviour.

which was seen as undisciplined





All free time was an opportunity for sloth,

our interests were suspicious as they were chosen by us,

our achievements were not to be celebrated so we wouldn’t think too much of ourselves.

our parents were feeble, stupid,

And we should be grateful we didn’t live with them anymore.


This was our original sin,

the indiscipline of our parents,

and thus,

we were the result of bad stock and bad habits.


My father lived with us,

she was his mother,

and tried his damndest to see and hear nothing.

He resigned from fatherhood and became a son.

expecting cooked meals,

pressed clothes,

clean shirts

and no sons to disturb this second adolescence.


I hated him so much …

my sister still does.

But what I hated most of all was conceding to my grandmother

that he was,


a coward.


Lost in himself.

forever blameless because forever 14,

an hedonist not out of love of life,

but because little boys don’t make plans.


Living there was a war that made me defensive and wary of people for years.

Cagey, afraid and suspicious of kindness.

Always on guard,

ready to bite and run

always alone and happy to be so.


When my mother got a rented room, I went to live with her,

sleeping on the floor next to her bed.


As I was going out the door my grandmother touched me on the shoulder and,

as I turned,

slapped me twice on the face.


“I know why you’re going away! So you would do what you want! Go be a failure like your father!”


Her eyes were wide,

hands taut and claw like.

She seemed eager to pounce.


I was twelve years old.




And then I didn’t see her for years.

My father would try to get me to come to her house,

remembering me that she loved me,

saying that all that I remembered,

all that happened,

was nothing more than lazy teens living with an old lady set in her ways,

Just that.


sometime in the future,

I would look back and laugh at these cherished family memories.



I probably,should have heard some of the things she said to me,

as they were advice to be heeded.


Many years passed,

ten, maybe more.

I was in the car, with my father on that December night.


I think it was my sister’s birthday and we were all going out to dinner.

My father roped me to go pick my grandmother.

and I …

by then,

didn’t feel much of anything.

Ten years passed,

everything fades to gray.


I remember it was cold.

The car heater was on and I had my overcoat,

but, if I pressed my face to the window,

I could feel the chill.


We parked outside her house, and my father said:

“Go get your grandmother. She’s waiting for us.”


When I opened her door, a gust of winter came from inside.

the stale dusty chill of closed houses.


All the lights were out and I asked myself if she was sleeping,

or dead.


I called:

“Grandma! … Grandma! It’s Miguel Grandma!”




I climbed the stairs,

my steps muffled in that garish carpet she liked,

all dark

all cold.


When I got up there I heard:

“Oh, it’s you. I thought that your father who would pick me up.”


Then I saw her.


Bent over on an unforgiving chair that was never used to sit, she sat.

In the dark,

by an open window,

letting in the dim glimmer of the street lights.


She looked frailer,




“Grandma aren’t you cold?”

“Cold? No, not really. Why? Is it cold today?”

“Why are you sitting in the dark?”

“... well, I was alone here, I wasn’t reading … I saw no reason to waste electricity”


She looked vaguely at me,

as if it should be mine the next move,

as if she needed a prompt.


“Come on Grandma, I’ll help you get up”.

I took her arm,

she took her cane

which I never seen her use

and, as she leant on me, I felt the weight of nothing on my arm.


She was insubstantial

indifferent to the cold

and not really there.


“I thought your father would pick me up.”

She said again.

“He’s waiting in the car Grandma”

“Oh … ok”


“Where are we going again?”

“It’s Margarida’s birthday Grandma. We’re going to have dinner.”

“Oh … Ok”



Late that night we were returning from Lisbon,

through the “Marginal”,

that went from Lisbon,

to Cascais,

always hugging the sea.


My grandmother looked outside and,

for the first time that night,

she looked engaged.


“This is so pretty...


her eldest sister.

Would love to see this…

I’ll tell her tomorrow.”

Her sister had died ten years ago.



My father

“Do you see the lighthouse?!”

“Yes mother, I do.”

“So pretty…

I’ll tell your father.”

My grandfather died 24 years ago.


She sat on the front of the car,

me and my sister on the back,

so happy to ride the Marginal,



Said my sister. Not one to leave well enough alone.


“Aunt Maria is dead.”

“Yes. Yes she she is … Silly of me.”


She said nothing for a while,

but smiled…

at the road,

the night,

the sea

the trees

the houses

I don’t know.

She just seemed content

to see the world pass by,

my father by her side,

and her ghosts around her.


That night I gave my Grandmother for dead.






When she died,

really died,

it was much more kinetic and a lot less poetic.


I saw her again at a burial in Cascais cemetery,

where my grandfather was buried and she bought a plot next to him.


We were burying a son from one of her sisters,

a 41 one old man,

prime  of his life,



As the men started shoveling dirt into the hole,

I became more aware of my grandmother’s discomfort.

She would twitch nervously among the graves,

not knowing where to be.


She came next to us,

Tsk tsking,

as if the funeral was all wrong.


I think it was by the third time she went through the grave that my mother took her by the arm and asked:

“Mother, are you ok?”

“Yes … Yes … it’s just that, I’m so old, and this is my graveyard … I can’t help but feel that I’m next.”


“Mother, don’t say that!

you look so well!”

My grandmother smiled thinly,

shrugged her shoulders,

and went near his grave.


Her sister was leaving

already by the exit,

crying and held by someone.


We followed,

and behind all of us,

my grandmother stood looking at the freshly dug grave of my uncle.


My sister sighed as she looked at her.

I said:

“I’ll get her”

“No …I will”.


She went to her side,

teetering above her nephew's grave,

and hugged her,



Her shoulders moved upwardly,

surprised to be held,

she let herself be touched.

For a while,

for a little while.


She patted my sister,

took her arm,

leant on the cane,

and pointed to the exit with her chin.


They moved from my uncle's grave

one cane held, the other looking at the ground,

through my mother,

who looked at me

wet eyed and empathizing,

expecting of me what this place took from everyone.


But me,

having no one but me to subsist,



so bereft of others

and stripped of warmth,

could only think:

“I must get away from here before they understand how much I don’t care.”


I looked at the gravel,

and hoped that my grandmother's trek through the graveyard would be as long as it could be.


The bitch.





Have I talked about her dying?

Yes I did.

And then I remembered the death of someone else.

My mistake.

I apologize.


I will tell you


of her death..


I was sleeping at my girlfriend's when she woke me,

shaking me softly:

“Miguel , Miguel, your grandmother just died. I’m so sorry”


I asked,

“Who called?”

“Your mother. Your father tried to call you but you didn’t answer.”

I looked at the phone

It was around 3h30.

My father called,

for the first time,

at 2h05.

I wasn’t very late.


I got up,

took a bath,


put on my suit,

a dark tie,

and my black overcoat.

If not not now, then when?


I arrived and my father was crying.

“Miguel, I’m so glad you came!

please don’t go to your grandmother’s bedroom. There’s nothing to see there,

not anymore…

she died without her teeth and  her wig.

I just couldn’t let anyone see her like that.”


When I got there all had been done.

My father had welcomed the police and the 911.

they did what they do,

said how sorry they were for his loss

and went away.


Leaving him with his mother

under a sheet,

with her wig

and her teeth.


He saw me looking at her and said:

“She died in my arms.

I was sleeping when I heard her cry:

“Zé! Zé! Come here, I can not breathe!”

she was jerking uncontrollably,

her nightgown at her breast,

no teeth,

no hair.

she looked at me gasping for air.


I said:

“Mother, mother it will be all right!”

trying to stop her jerking.

but I couldn’t.

I took her head in one hand,

her hand on the other

gripping her close to my chest.


she moved, once



and then stopped.”


There’s nothing of your grandmother to see in that bed.

Just a shell”.


He cried some more,

and I got curious about her corpse.


I moved


to where she lied.


She was small,

she was always small,

but now she was just a bump on a bed.


I pulled the sheet and looked.


Her jaw jutted sideways,

as if it trying to leave her face.

the eyes looked upward, looking intently at the ceiling.

my father tried to closed them, but they opened again.

Hands were clenched around her breast.

as if to move a weight from her chest.

The living don't look like this.


I saw all this and thought

”God, I hope my father doesn't see this!”

But he did.


for a long time.

He put her teeth on,

and her wig.


As he cried, it dawned on me.

I can not help this man from the horror of the death of his mother.

but maybe, I can help him bury her well.


My grandmother now,

the cunt,

was so much of what she was in life,

dead weight and bad memories.


But maybe,

just maybe,

my father remembered something else,

and maybe,

I should respect this.

So I did.


The wake was a pleasant affair.

I went to wash my hands and saw that I was much thinner,

and that I looked good in my suit.


The rest of the day I mc’ed the event,

happy and self assured

safe in the knowledge of my handsomeness.


Some of my sisters' girlfriends came and commented on how good I looked.

It felt awesome.


My father cried in a corner,

not able to navigate the social niceties

and me so eager to do it.


It was a long wake.

We were there at 9 in the morning and came home at midnight.

All day in a tasteless chapel in one of the more nondescript places in Cascais.

If I wasn’t so pleased with myself it would have been unbearable..


The next day was the burial.

and if you’ve been to one, I’ve nothing more to add.

The same solemn steps,

the same hole,

that thud in your heart when you hear the dirt coming over the casket,

and the lingering feeling that,

all in all,

better them than us.




I wish I had an ending for this poem,

some kind of coda to wrap the story in a pithy summation.

But I haven’t.


The story is what I wrote,

even if I don’t know


what I intended to tell.


I read that some mathematical questions can’t be summated in a equation.

there’s no way to discern an underlying algorithm,

no way to summarize elegantly the unruly mess that are some problems.


the only way to explain it,

Is going through all the calculations,

step by step,

painstakingly forbearing any intelligence

and giving yourself


to arithmetic.


And I think that is what happened here.

The story is the story,

void of morality and gnosis.


And that will have to do.





“When your stepfather was dying in the hospital”

Said my mother

He would look at me and say:

“Save me! Save me!”

And I thought he was talking about the medication that caused him pain”


She took a sip from her glass and continued.

“But of course I was lying to myself.

He wasn’t talking about the medication…



Not everyone dies well."






The girl stood in front of the car screaming:





There was a thud,

                         and then nothing.


Her friend stared

                           as she shouted at the driver:

                                                                      “Real nice M’am! Really, really nice!”


I looked behind me, to the cat in the road.


It was jumping and somersaulting spasmodically

In total silence

pirouetting in the air,

almost never touching the tarmac,

an acrobat of pain.

Not at all what you expect from a cat that was run over.


But there he was,






Coiling and uncoiling at lunchtime.







I saw her through the car window,

as she started to dance for the pigeon on the sidewalk.


Looking vacantly at the bird,

   smiled thinly as she raised one arm,

       and pointed the other to the ground.


She stirred,

      poised to lift her leg in dance,

                       an impossible position,

                                standing precarious on a foot.


As my Uber sped to never see her again,

I thought of Shiva

the Cosmic Dancer,

and It’s strange and fleeting avatars.





The Question


It was night and we were drinking in the garden by the church.

I looked at my friend and asked him,

- “Di, are you always aware that you’re black?”

- “No, not really. Sometimes I think about it, if someone is weird with me in a bar,

or on the street … people looking at you funny, know what I mean”?

- “Yeah”

- “Then I think, is this because I’m black?

But you don’t know.

Not really.

It can be for so many reasons


        Yeah; but I think about it.”






First thoughts after reading the Rig Veda


Oh bounteous Sun! Giver of warmth that belies winters,

Thy boons are yours and through you alone.

As we bask in your most munificent glow,

We’re reminded of the fleet footed horses

That bring the day and occlude the shade.


Oh beauteous rays of light!

Oh, form unseen!

Oh God so giving,

favour our right sacrifice.


We stand here in attention!

Full of awe,

And respect


Oh Sun, your generosity is like that of a overflowing river!

Constant, fast and plentiful.

and to you, Oh my mighty King,

I send my prayers of wealth and days.











This afternoon was sound and movement.

      bangs, clarions and hisses

              the din of lovers who creep and crawl to each other.


It rained,

      a cold splatter, here and not here,

we talked,

      ravenous in our presence

the words of others surrounded us,

      like dishes touching dishes,


       when we spoke,

our hearts were full of sound.


Vrooommm, buzz and kill…


Words were thrown at me,

and I heard them as applause

Clap, clap, clap


Purr, purr, purr,

or confrontation

Pow, pow, pow!


All lost in the clang of the kitchen, the people and the cars outside the restaurant.


But still it was clear what I heard,

“I love you”

“Thank you for being here”

These are much better times”

“I’m happy that you’re with me”.


All the sounds that passed between me and my father.

Not because we don’t talk,

As we talk so much

Not because we don’t express emotions,

They come like voluble torrents of lava, violent and hearing only their sound.

Not because we don’t understand each other,

so, so much


But because,

some days are noisier than others,

full of streets, wants and longing,


and the loudest is the coming together with another.


All the bedlam drowns you

As you try for  love to pierce through.


And when you go away,


you understand the biggest noise was your heart.


Boom - boom - boom.








All people have a geography and,

If you’re a interesting person,

your space is of interest to others.


They care about “your town”

“your streets”

“Your routes”

“Your ways”.


These people

   Those of interest

   Players of History

   Known by children

   And read by the multitudes


Are object of geographical study

Each step a direction

All gestures pregnant with volition

Going, always, with intent,

And in all moving, wanting…

Making of their lives an open easy book, understood by all.


This is the idea behind the idea of history, literature, religion and all that binds us.

All must be read by all.



I think

All men have a geography.

Although there might be nothing else to distinguish them.

Although they’re the  nothing but the  silence of history,

Their routes exist,

in ways known only to themselves,


And what do we know

To say these voyages are worst than any other?


What do we know when,

Grabbing their lives

flattenning their shades

Smoothing their contradictions,

Explain their silences

and smother their explosions?


We make of their lives, narratives.

Explaining all,

knowing nothing.


Today I make this pronouncement

   Who but me?

   What time but now?

   Where but here?

That all paths of men  are to be seen.

There are no geographies more important than others,

And that,


      There’s no knowledge where there’s no hierarchy,

There will always be stories that are more interesting than others.


And I suggest here,

For the very first time

The hypothetical existence

Never seen because never studied

Of a man’s route that,

If absent of history

Exulted in geography.


Routines made of subways, trains and trams,

   The things that move

Cross lines in the skin of the city,

Mandalas made of walks to the gym and work.

Sigils born from bathroom breaks in the bar

And cosmogonies explained by your holidays in Caparica.






Yesterday I dreamt of a girl I loved at eleven.

And in the dream I saw her, now.

Older, thinner … a little gaunt,

But still beautiful.

She seemed nervous…

Immense, tense brown eyes



As the hands clasped and unclasped.


And I,

I loved her with the violence that you love what is dead and done

knowing I’ll won’t it love anymore.


I found her in a small town

In the dream


After she disappeared saying very little,

I knew that that was where I would live forever.


Then I dreamt about her friends,

       the town,

            and how to stay there.

But that is not what I remember.


None of that was enough to tell you what I  dreamnt,

    Is there anything more boring than talking about dreams?

    Surely not

What made it special;

Was this:


In the dream they asked me if I,


              wanted to stay in the town.

Which was

In fact

So small.



As I answered,

I felt a swelling like a tide,


And said



She’s the love of my life.”




There’s a concept called “path dependence”, that says that your current decisions are determined by latter ones.

That all that happens results from what you did, no matter how remote.

And that the past is the best way to explain the present.


In this world there are no master plans,

No strategic visions,

Great lines,



In this way of seeing, all that there is, is, because of all the little steps before.

No other truth but the path,

Steps taken,

And nothing else.


In this vision the route is all.

It’s the cause and the explanation,

The need and the answer.


And maybe it’s for this that all geographies are important.

Because there’s no higher value,

A total explanation,

An holistic reason

For the path that is each and everyone of us.


And here we stand,

With no reason or explanation,

In our own timelines

Frail and complete,

Only in it teleology

Only in it aesthetics,

Only in it the possibility of redemption.


And for all this,

And because of this,


Is why that a man,

At 44,

Can dream about the beginning of his life

with people that don’t exist anymore,

And wake up

One morning,

With his heart full of songs.






The chair pressed my sides,

Its arms drilling into me saying,

you shouldn’t be here.


This chair,

       when unemcubered with slothfull mass,

                 sits only the usual and the sane,

not freaks of flesh.


I screw myself out of the esplanade seat,

where all sat drinking and eating guiltlessly,

and I thought:


I do  not belong here,

I’m too fat and self-obsessed to exist between sundecks and sunscreens.

Summer, sunlight and sunshine all ask to for their lithe and golden sons,

Not the trudging obese.

I should be ashamed,


…and I was.


I waddle away,

my ass a pendulum

ticking away my escape from this sun dappled scene.


As I depart a warm breeze shoots through the street,

a tepid rush of air raises the leaves, rustles the branches and washes over me.

The wind touches my neck and shoulders,

blowing softly through my shirt,

and embracing me like a playful lover.


I feel myself standing to attention,

and walking a little straighter …

a little prouder.





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