Remember That Country


My dear, do you remember that country
Of abandoned stone houses with their roofs toppled in,
Eyes of their windows blank sockets,
Great nest-holes for birds and ways for the wind?
Steps to them crumbling, the grasses grown wild,
Half hay and half weed in the gardens?
And the ascensions and erosions of mountains
Sharply arising from the river's deep basin
Where the hilltowns sat in their jagged nests,
Abandoned as well, and dying.
Ancient, so ancient, built
In the times of the Saracens
When the only defense was retreat
And triple-made bastions of walls out of rock,
So old, who had been driven so far
Up to such verges, to live at all.
Do you remember, and the deep gorges,
Those long gashes in earth the river had cut,
Very fantasias of concentric circles of rock
Up which the stream's bed went?
And the joy of the day, the way the birds sang,
The sun on the river, the rosemary and lavender,
Do you remember the fete and the danceband
To which the nightingales sang?
And the women washing clothes
In the brimmed stone tubs on the turns of the way
Up to the first of those towns so crookedly set
On crazy needles of rock?
And the goat bleating in a shut-in stable?
Do you remember? It was you set the pace,
You would take every zigzag path,
Given up to the vigils of knowing and seeking,
Intolerably wanting to touch every crest,
Go back of each mountain into the stilled
Frozen seas of their wilderness.
That day when we were parched with thirst
It was you who discovered the medlar.
How we robbed that tree of its fruit
For the taste of its happiness!
Do you remember? Such distances!
Such echoes! So many towers!
And the great river we walked by
So many miles! All that had happened!
Such thickness of leaves should you turn to the legends,
The Sieges, the Plague, the Wars of Religion,
The countships, the courts of love
And the olives and lizards by the clamorous river
Drowning our voices as it drowned theirs
That had their eyes once and their bodies,
Stones that they threw, songs that they sang,
And their kisses.
Do you remember those discarded old bridges
Still sustaining substantially
Spans for mere marguerites to take,
In such slow travel, along with the poppies,
Where wagons and horsemen once went?
And that army of sheep back from some grassland,
And their heat, so close-pressed, though they
Were new-shaven, the tremolo of their baas
And their dogs, the donkeys, and shepherds?
Then there was that yellow wild flower
Casting up such fresh gusts of fragrance
That it, broken by the night-singing of birds,
Shall sum up for the rest of my days
An unsullied country, almost beyond the stars.


Jean Garrigue, Country Without Maps, MacMillan Company, 1964.