Enrique looking up the gulley
at us lurching down towards him :
shadows across the budding moon.
With arms looped and twisted like lianas
he wields the long-handled billhook
and hacks away at brushwood.
Blade-tip teasing the evening star
he bundles up the whippy broom
the gorse and dangled snatching briar
to clean the path for wayfarers
passing on their way to town
or pausing in the dark hut
among crop-eared dogs and thirteen cats
to drink a glass of good wine
or listen to his egg-shell voice
sing sierra songs as he strums the lute.
“Put your rucksack down,” he says.
“Don’t mind the peppers drying there.
“This morning I woke up early”
– temprano, but he says trempano –
“and went for firewood – but I couldn’t
“the path so overgrown with rain”.
His one tooth twinkling in the half-light
he slings a log at the cats
encircling our feline allergies
so they skedaddle briefly and
then come creeping back
while he talks on, tugging a stranger’s jacket
“Corduroy – that’s good, corduroy
wears and wears” – stroking his shapeless trousers.
How old is he ? seventy ? eighty ? ninety ?
He has worn well, still light of frame
able to scramble up the gorge
and down to town, every ten days
– he counts the dates – and get a shave,
rubbing grey stubble, face turned to the hill.
“Go that way while there’s still light,
cross the brook and keep on right
through the oaks and to the clearing
where you go down to Pampaneira.”
And so we part – his hand is warm and firm –
and scramble on, his words keening over us
like a hawk’s cry : I had asked was he alone
and he had nodded : all the crofts are abandoned now –
abanonao – the word bereft of consonants
trails after his crackly laugh
from pine to pine and crag to crag
down to the darkening pool.