back toJacket2

Michele Leggott

Journey to Portugal

for Ana Paula Tavares
who brought the angel to Coimbra

the words

take me down
into the sea
Viagem a Portugal
concrete steps
in white roses
Largo da Portagem
where the boats
tie up below
a saint inside
a silver tomb
on Alcáçova hill

I like everything that’s real
And everything that’s right

little heart

the Raj of Perlis commands me
to bring you Miss Fair & Lovely
by parachute drop direct
to his birthday celebrations
in the palace gardens

it is this that has made
a man speechless on the busy street
his bicycle has run into a bus
and he’s telling a local radio station
how he pretended to be dumb
when the police began asking questions
his voice is nothing but balloons
and pink sugar     he drifts
to earth twenty two days later
and wins a ticket to see a show
wrapped in gold lame that trembles
with tenderness  
he is a happy man

I don’t know who I dream I am . . .

but who knows ahead of time
what will happen to one who doesn’t
exist?    the problem is immense
white stones scattered on a hillside
where someone was born and someone died
and another came to take up
where someone left off

half the world in darkness
half the world in light
commotion in the neighbourhood
when poetry overtakes silence

I run to the window and look out
why don’t you see me and wave?
we could be having fun
fado fátima and football
real and happy and right
Surabaya glides under the wing

Amor, amor, amor

that city we left

under cover of darkness
descending at dawn from the cerulean
into another smoky metropole
                                                    mind your step
this is where we lost you
in the gaping summer air above
the hook the hello
                                                    mind your step
where you are a Surinamese
flamingo in the museum shop
the scent of roses a long way from home
a red ibis whistling as the last bar closes
                                                    mind your step
I spray my wrists with spring water
and walk towards departure

I am the centre that doesn’t exist
I am the nothingness around which this movement spins

verde, verde, verde

we walk in a jardim botânico first
to a fountain with four gates
and cardinals in a procession     doves roll
over the white paths and water splashes
in the centre of the mata
then we ascend to the terrace and read
under a tree so big it could be
the carousel of the world going round
dropping messages that extend
the day of words and make us jump
into space when we thought
we were safely on the ground

verde, verde

words beginning the restoration
of what lives forever
one day apart    half-moon over
the celebrating city     victory
over death     the bells ringing out
shocked intoxicant    the young green wine
bubbling like sunlight
in a fountain    água / sol / água
children troop past with notebooks
we set our clocks to local time


how many times do we come to the fountain?
how many times do we drink?
how many signs and how many angels
and the sun coming up in geminate?
he reads and the words go over my head
he sings and the water falls on me
it happens here and it happens to us
he shares what he has given away  

saudade, saudade, saudade

when I write it comes out one way
when I sing it’s a different language
long shadow fingers holding the page
palavras the words     fruits and flowers
dropping through the filtered light
little horses of the carousel
remaking corporeal existence
the aqueduct calls out its transparent name
and the doves roll over roll over
the white path the stone steps the fountain
of the saints in their sandals of gold

Funerals of King Cheops in old gold and Me!

she counts ten angels

on the sarcophagus
behind the poets reading
in the biblioteca on the hill
I remember and I have looked
for the ugliest one of all
smiling white weight of a cobblestone
in one pocket     empty box of stars
in another     and mixed together the dust
of the two realities falls     white and black gold
on my fingers     adoration dancing  

And all this spring landscape is the moon above the fair,
And all the fair with noises and lights is the floor of this sunny day

a poet from New York hammers
on the library door     another walks
towards the locked cabinets
with a camera that catches the sound
of bats high up in the vault
and an oculos lifting off for heaven
the indigenes have come to listen
but like us they want to photograph
the gold and guarded books
in natural light     a giant apple fills
one viewing platform  
Fernandinho with his little flowers
another    was it enough
to get the curtains drawn back?
to have the master narrative
blink and shift on its haunches?
the gold is beautiful     it listens
to words free as lepidoptera
in a rain forest     it calls notes
from the harpsichord
that make us forget to breathe

each day we eat at the long tables
of the Cafe Justiça e Paz
house red is our drink
white paper the linen where we draw
maps and tributary street plans
showing each other
the old town running down
into its republican places     and rough
translations of the river gliding by
dos Poetas

at night among the ruins
we imagine waiting for the barbarians
two hundred years of anxiety
listening to their dogs in a campo
beyond the walls     scratching
soft Xs into the night by columns
like broken molars around a peristyle
who’s fooled?    we know it’s us
looking west towards the past
that is to be     we are in Portugal
facing the sea and talking
to the Lusitani

My soul shattered like an empty vase.

omphalos, a moment

loosed and far reaching
now time now time now shadow
down to the STONE
a door being opened and a light
switched on elohim     we go for a walk
and find a square     the old cathedral is busy
so we don’t go in, strolling instead
to the Praça where a brass band is set up
outside São Tiago     people drift over
and fill the plastic chairs     it’s Saturday
the concert is hits from sentimental movies
and everyone is transported     look that’s us
twirling along the edges of the square
red velvet     leafy trees     Dolce Vita set    
we’re part of a crowd of afternoon romantics
lost in contemplation of the sculpty portals
showing a way into heaven
that’s full of decorative flourishes in stone
we stay to the end then sit on the steps
looking out across public space
the sun is descending
we are silent and perfectly content
we have danced at the centre of the world

I am going to exist. To ex-ist . . . To ex-ist . . .
Give me something to drink, for I am not thirsty

one poet weeps
in the Auditório da Reitoria
and others say they cried
there are silences unbelieving
and too much said and not enough
and heteronymic footsteps
in the hall     who’s this
hand in my hand, the traveller
I do not see
who sees me dance again
towards the centre of the world
where time stops
and the garden is a flower
picked at random
on any winding street

My hands are the steps of that girl quitting the fair,
Alone and happy as today . . .


down the Rua dos Espirals
with its honeysuckle its wistaria
its datura trees hanging over the wall
to the parque (this is easy) and discover
a mirror of the new world
held up to reality in the ruins
of the old     we’ve stumbled on Brazil
in a forest of exotic birds and vistas
through the trees     is this the shape
of all we are?    the double staircase
the mirrors either side of a mossy fountain
built to look like a waterfall     at its foot
someone empties a fish into a pool
squeezing it to start an inundation
fingers behind the gills of the world fish
or spilling out a river of stars  
a monster or a guardian     we can’t tell
but we’ve seen them both before
and water rushing through
making its cobbly noise, its river spirals

we make our way up Rua dos Confusos
past the cats of the students in their
dingy republicas     I’ve always been confused
as if it’s yesterday I hear you
the first aria hits the hot pavement
we climb to the top of the hill
two butterflies en pointe
settling on the nose of Dom Dinis
borboletas butterflies maravilhas marvels
we go to the palace at noon
and eat a banquet with many courses
in honour of the Excelentíssimo Senhor
whose blue spires brought us here
we go to the chapel and hear
folk singing with wooden adufes
from Idanha-A-Nova and a man
with an oxcart on a pole
carrying the bride to her wedding

that night is formed in a sidewalk cafe
Borboletas Maravilhosas
the Ladies’ Anarchist Internet Choir

Reality, come back tomorrow.

house of the fountains

there never was a view
we couldn’t improve     all it took
was a word     grapevine     wrought iron
whispering in the Cloister of Silence
which century whose history
can we go now     under the trees
drinking coffee and scribbling furiously
on a black and white guitarra
I know what to do
and it’s true we get to the ruínas
without difficulty     and it’s Galicia
it’s Arles it’s fields of composition
the siren at one o’clock     it’s almoço
step and step     everything will happen
mosaics the colour of hyacinths
flicking like a gecko’s tongue
fountains buried fifteen hundred years
playing in rows on pools with gardens
set like barges on a lake     spigots
pouring that curtain of noise
off the water truck
in summer     how did they do that?
how did the tree sail like a ship?    everything
with its feet in water     everything
floating in air     the bells ring two o’clock
we leave to get lost in the hills
the gorges the cascades the river
crossing and re-crossing a meander
we don’t know where we’re going
step and step     the bells ring across fields
cut for hay near olive trees
out of a plein air fantasy     the long way
to Luso     step and step and step    
to the enchanted forest and its grottos
sanitários next to the ravine     step and step
the armillary sphere with its bracelets
flashing in the late sun     the swan
pure Manuelino and the loggia
where wistaria trails us again
a terrace with a view of the next millennium
in the dreaming arms of the last
all circles of a single sphere
step and step and step     to the pool
no magnolia fringe
water splashing from a plastic pipe
hand-lettered notices on rocks
painted white No Washing in the Fountain
two swans sailing nearby
No Picking of Floras and Ramagens
one black one white
the stone ploomps once and is gone
step and step and step     ten pools ascending
each with its black and white game
of contemplation in the forest     the double
stair of what we are     walking up
with heavy steps then down
one either side     counting out loud
each pool different     each flight
part of a single prayer anglesite the host
stationed and holding its breath

a little cave at the top and the spring
rising without ceremony
a Triton holding open the dolphin’s maw
and nereids like fireboats
rejoicing in the Place of the Restoration
step and step and step     the Place of Ripples
stretching into the distance extasiado
but we are still here in the park     free
to walk or to look through the grilles
of the Via Crucis chapels at terracotta scenes
almost lifesize     the night in the wilderness
or the terrace with its far-reaching view
under the Navigator’s tower
and azulejo romance on the walls
see, she’s put a flower in his flying helmet
for love as they teeter above a lily pool
then a barco full of devils before or after
O Novo Mundo     delirium with open breast
beside him and confidence to burn
the bells ring seven o’clock     the sun
descending     a dance on the terraço
due west     a passage     a festival  
two who love each other driving away
with the sun in their eyes     step and step
to the ruins of the fire     on a run
for the setting sun plunging into the sea

The language is a block of marble.

quiet storm

when I stand here in the dark
looking out not seeing
intolerable distance but sadness
sometimes across space
where I walk uncertainly
into the future loving you
backwards in an abîme
that was once a star
I ask for instructions
hoping for a miracle
the letters
slip in slip out slip across
the borders between speech
and light     Serra da Estrela
in those mountains the traveller
picks up white stones

Poets are fakers
and their faking is so real
that they even fake the pain

the pain that they really feel

I’m almost up to yesterday

still on top of the Elevador
or looking out from a pass
in the Mountains of the Star
grasshoppers clicking about
in a great emptiness
carved out of existence

Guarda guards
a shrine in the old wall
a Euro kissed and crossed
and placed in a box
before her and the flowers
a soul of blood
and the sweet voice of the wren
falling down

Sabugal is a castle
under reconstruction
iced tea in the shade
of brushwork trees
Penamacor another
old lady in black
scolding the world
and the stupid tourists
trying to drive where
she’s walking down
the hill in a hurry

Castelo Branco
a stone saint for every step
in the bishop’s garden
delphiniums like blue prayers
in a book of hours

in an immensity
in a panorama  
in a field of stars
imaged one way
but indicating another kind
of cosmos altogether
what is there to do but sail on
into the Great Sea
with the Ephemerides and instruments
that lift up the imagined corners
and sine curves making the world
go round     was that an accident or
Serendipity looking out
of a window on high 
Nossa Senhora da Esperança
e Maravilhas
I think she saw it all
old lady in a headscarf
walking like a girl
going to meet her boy
where the boat waits
that will take him from her
a day at a time

the moon comes up for eastern beacon  
the sun goes down in the west
we come to Belém where the Voyages
began     being fire from the light
and get lost all over again
I am happy when I forget     and again
when I remember I am sad
nova, vida nova     they paved Paradise
and put up a parking lot      a little distance
from the Hotel Borges
where we walk into lifts like cupboards
Está bem, boa-noite, boa-noite    
and our dreams rattle by    having a charm
beyond all the creatures of chaos

If there’s one thing the traveller values,
it’s knowing the meaning of names.
He employs a form of prayer:
love lost in admiration.

o cidade dos sete mares

if that was breakfast we need
better directions     a river fountain
on the Avenida da Liberdade
all the gods and their angels     
running a block under the trees
to the Terra Nova dispensing cafés
duplos at tables where sunlight
plays with black words running
through pools and belvederes
with shifting edges as many moments
as the trees have leaves     yes
we are Restauradores in search
of another instauration     we take pictures
out there on the mosaic pavements
so bright they hurt our eyes
so wide the rolling Passeio
we promenade with parasols
under the nereid fountains and down
Rua Augusta to the Comércio
where a palace fronts the sea     flanked
by a street of silver      besame
and a street of gold     besame mucho  

The language is not yet worn out by daily use.

Rua da Prata, Rua do Ouro
we ride into the sky
in the city of hydraulic ascensions  
looking through black lace     fine denier
iron twirls     the carousel beginning again
smoke of the tobacco shop
music floating up from the street
on a wind from the sea     como si fuera
esta noche la ultima vez
                                 |     O L I S I P O
        |        ALANI |
        |       MORISS|_______________
        |              So-Called Chaos
        |                  o novo disco
        |    Ao vivo em Aveiro de 25 Junho

Where are the walls that keep out life?
. . . your great dynamics,
strident, hot and soaked in blood!

the man with the saxophone
is following as the No. 28 tram
climbs up the hill to the castelo
besame, besame mucho
doves coo     while tile faces black
Ao vivo in the city of the seven seas
it’s not Aldina but another Duarte
who signed the kneeling woman in stone
it wasn’t her floating on the wall
of the Torre de Ulisses     but every other
detail the camera oscura gave us
for love of looking from the battlements
at the city in its bowl of air

que tengo miedo a perderte, perderte despues

Lissabona the good place
lost and found    O Fonte dos Poetas
ressurrected on a wall in the Alfama
with a plea for its future protection
and two dolphins twined
top to tail and spilling water
into a basin the shape of a shell
it’s not certain the water is clean
but we cool our foreheads
with its drips and hear a thousand palavras
fall into the silence of that courtyard

five stars wait quincunx
for the words to take effect     emptiness
conjuring existence
somewhere these things are already true
because they’re not here yet
oh tremble but please don’t walk away

my shoulders are sore
though we kept off the sun with a billowing
shirt and walked always in the shade
why does the sun want to bite me
what have I done that it follows
like a dog through the becos     hey dog!
I’m  burnt does that satisfy you?
aren’t you pleased that I climbed
the walls of your city and saw
bougainvillea run a red spear maremoto
into the glittering heart of the bay?    that’s where
I’ll go next     will you be there too?

now we drink beer
now the sun falls down
we fall down for a while
in sympathy
then we go out to drink

on Douradores Street or taking
the yellow funicular, Elevador da Glória

I go into another language
everything disappears
the world’s first mirrors
dance on the Miradouro
waiting for the splash of your hand
and that signal from the bougainvillea
proclaiming your immanence
in the city of light
look over the edge and live on
borboleta     this is the harbour I love
you from     you are Portugal
facing the sea

a little wooden horse in the window
how will we find our way back
when the streets have no names
we can fix to a memory
deep in the seahorse brain

I’m handed doubt, like dust inside a box —
but why give me a box if all it contains is dust?

Cascais which is not

Sintra but is more beautiful
because she leaves what she is doing
to meet us off the train     this is not
her place but she tells its stories
makes sure the gifts are real
the wine young and the fish platter
all it should be     we are grateful
also for intangibles    the slant
of midday light in the courtyard
the cool interior of the igreja
with holy paintings by a woman
carmine and intacta on the walls
I like better Angolan drums but these
are the fadistas you should take
what will she take next year
returning to that difficult country
where she was born?    Ana Paula
who tells us the dove is pomba
there on the white paths of the arboretum
and the box a caixa Malabar    
from the coast where ambition
and imagination collided long ago

at S Joâo do Estoril she leaves us
for the dissertation that is slowly
bringing to light old Portuguese
from archives belonging to Angolan chiefs
nada de novo na face da Terra
history wrapping itself around
people who want to talk to each other
they tremble like angels in a slipstream
they are silver and gold     they are
everything that’s just about to happen

up in the gardens of Estrela
we find Lisboetas walking under
magnolia trees as big as boats
flowering melia feathery robinia
and olaia which some call judas tree
everyone plays cards or swings
on the flying-swings     sailboat nuns
light of heart and jumping into sand
that’s white and cool as eggs
and now we see it
the barco da Estrela at the gates
casting off with its precious load
of saints’ bones and a box of stars
or shoes for walking on the floor
of heaven    Olisipo Lissabona
fortune’s funny face     sweet haven
and the big black birds fore and aft
loaned from the other story

I remember my childhood with tears
but they’re rhythmic tears
in which prose is already being formed

concha do ouro, Portugal moon

there was a moon out in space
and something taking its place
two dolphins berserk about us
on their offshore roads     swimming
down the Café Nicola facade
to the sea     they’ll meet the Wanderer there
and go on home around the curve
of the world     meanwhile in the Rossio
ripples wave us goodbye too
and the orchestra arrives beside our table
right on cue     body taken by stars
besame, besame     we have made
the connection we have remembered
everything     even the moon
even the space taken by the moon

churches light up when you walk past

yes, a miracle  
have you been to a wedding
she asks three times
standing in the corridor
something like that
comes the reply     and behind it
deep laughter
the monstrance lifted
the choir singing in a spell
a troupe of mummers jumping
so high their mirror pants
clink like tiles
and the tails of their jackets
flip from one side of the nave
to the other     behind them
a supernova Ascension in silver
up above     a palm frond waving
from the cupola     exuberant crown
holy company     public address
and moonlight on the rose parterres
perhaps they came in on a boat
and will leave when we do
shouting Milagre! Milagre!
I have bought a miracle
it smells like orange-blossom
and it looks like carnival time
in my bag is the little horse
in the park the fig from another side
of the earth     I have remembered
what I wanted to say     I am happy
I am sitting with a person in the sun
outside the Brasileira     from somewhere
comes the tap of a typewriter
or a stick on cobbles     soon we’ll find
the drawing of the room as lightwell
ourselves setting out again
saying Diamantes e Pérolas if you’re not
too lazy and know how to forget
the sun coming up     the water and the world

how should I resume my folding life?

Note: The italicised lines between poems in ‘Journey to Portugal’ are for the most part taken from a notebook reading of Fernando Pessoa made before and during the journey as written (interleaved) into the same notebook.

— M.L.

Michele Leggott, photo by Tony Green

Michele Leggott
photo by Tony Green

Michele Leggott has published five books of poetry, including Milk and Honey (Auckland UP, 2005) and As far as I can see (AUP, 1999; reviewed by Philip Mead in Jacket 16). Co-editor of Big Smoke (AUP, 2000) with Alan Brunton and Murray Edmond, editor of Robin Hyde’s book-length poem The Book of Nadath (AUP, 1999) and Young Knowledge: The Poems of Robin Hyde (AUP, 2003) reviewed by Susan Ash in Jacket 25. A major project since 2001 has been the development of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) at the University of Auckland. You can read poems by Michele in Jacket 3 and in Jacket 16. See also >

April 2005  |  Jacket 27  Contents  |  Homepage  |  Catalog  |  Search  |
about Jacket | style guide | bookstores | literary links | 400+ book reviews |