Co-founder and former Artistic Director of StAnza, Scotland’s Poetry Festival, Anna Crowe is an award-winning poet and translator whose work has been recorded for the Poetry Archive and translated into several languages. Her third full collection, Not on the Side of the Gods, was published in 2019 by Arc. Awarded a Travelling Scholarship by the Society of Authors, her translations have been published by Arc and by Bloodaxe and recommended by the Poetry Book Society.
for Gerardo San Román and Miriam San Román Crowley
a meditation on Paisatge amb figueres (Landscape with fig trees),
the work of the sculptor Andreu Maimó
in memoriam R.C.S.R.
Fig tree at Ses Carritxó
Such wintry implications
Like the old tree
that grew on the north side
of our garden in Marseille
grey-skinned and sinuous
whose figs were small and hard
and fell to the ground
for lack of sun
before they ripened
Thursdays were jours de congé
for girls of the Cour Bastide
so we hid among the branches
to watch the kids of the école communale
At break the boys would chase
long lines of girls
their screams of joy
(we knew we must never scream)
a froth of petticoats
that broke like surf
on our silent wall
Doves, fig tree and walls
High walls, mute, shuttered windows:
La Cour Bastide
In the shady yard at break
in the hubbub of strange language
others chalked the grid of la marelle
numbered the spaces 1, 2, 3
then halfway L’ENFER
then 4, 5, 6 to the dome at the end LE CIEL
Aiming the stone
we ventured our small attempts with
awkward as geese on bumpy ground
we tried not to land in hell
Throw by throw
words, whole phrases
crept from between the lines
trembled like lizards in the cracks of walls
then flew like the stone from our throats
Sometimes our words drew smiles
as kind as the fig tree
in the box-hedged garden
of Madame la Directrice
—A toi le tour! —A moi? —Oui, oui
Lance ta pierre! Vas-y!
But now you have thrown your stone
far beyond these walls
and I imagine it flying
like one of Andreu’s doves
into that blue
Fig leaves I
Lobed and palmate
glossy and pliant when young
veined like our hands
mapped with capillaries
with life line and love line
with what’s done and what’s to come
The skin grows rough and mottled
darkening, dotted with galls like liver-spots
with pocks and clots and rings of rust
fallen they stiffen like leather
crackle underfoot, crumble in dust
yet still retain the scent the whole tree has
a musky pungency like no other
Even when burning
the wood keeps its peculiar sweetness
February, another fire, the smell of winter
the mistral blowing out of a sky as blue
as a glacier, freezing hands and faces
Our father burned dead fig branches
while we played in the old wash-house
making those daft models in plaster-of-Paris—
Snow White with dwarfs, Humpty-Dumpty—
We learned how brittle our world was
how fragile the things we make to love
Trunk of fig tree from Ses Rossells
This tree is a grey-faced woman
who struggles to her feet, one arm
a broken branch hanging useless
The wild fire on the hill
you have escaped for now
but you are tinder-dry this summer
Terracing lies tumbled around you
Earlier we stood in the gloom of the cave
wondering why we had come
Inside, the usual debris
human excrement, tissues, rusting tins
a goat’s skeleton picked clean by ants
blackened stones of a makeshift hearth
To please our father, find his fabled cave
we had scrambled over boulders
cut ourselves on razor-grass
and now your arm is broken
Two daughters in their fifties
still trying to prove
they are as good as the sons he wanted
We should have followed the example of Vassilissa
borne the goat skull home
and let the darkness in its sockets
blaze our rage, burn down the house
Fig tree at Son Ramonet Gros
What is it you hear?
Poised on one foot
you’re about to convene
a residents’ meeting
clean the pool
walk the dog
cook for the parents, but
something just off to the left
tugs, and you lean
distracted by this sound
as by a strange
beat in the car’s engine
a thudding in the ears
Please do not listen
Pay it no heed
It is only the three o’clock wind
the wind in the cypresses you hear
Pollençan fig tree
Standing on the bend before Can Xura
the finest fig tree in La Font.
Rustling a little as a moped passes
dusty in summer yet drawing its water
up from aquifers fed by rain
falling on the Tramuntana,
does it still bear fruit?
When our children were small
there was always water at Easter time
flowing in the Sant Jordi torrent;
enough for children to dam
with small rocks; a dazzle of water, enough
for a pair of mallard and their brood
to swim in below the little farm
at the foot of the Vall de Ternelles.
Can Xura lies like an old dog in the sun
beside the opening to the valley gorge
blinking its œil-de-bœuf Moorish windows.
In the big kitchen Moor and Christian
took the oath that gives the house its name
to keep the peace and share the water
No water flows now along the conduits
the Arabs built on top of the walls.
The iron gates to the valley
are permanently locked to coaches
of foreign walkers who once came every day.
More swimming-pools drain the aquifers.
The bed of the torrent is filling up
with tyres and supermarket trolleys.
Only after a cloudburst does water flow
in the Sant Jordi torrent. The fig orchards,
the almond orchards are grubbed up. A dazzle
of concrete hurts the eyes. The island grows dry.
The island we knew is dead, and so are you.
Does the sweetest fig tree in La Font
still bear fruit?
in memory of my parents
I remember how small
you seemed that day, lost
in a wintry, rain-drenched hinterland
of clinics and flower-markets; the island
squeezed in Prospero’s fist,
all of us spell-
bound; Ariel’s hand
on mine while he light-fingered
film into a narrative
opaque with loss; and when I dive,
I swim past days all foundered,
to enter a land
in which the mill-sails
wave with palms, where blossom
engulfs the tower, and Arabic fades.
Making no sound, ilex invades
the tombs, scrawling its handsome
They’re strangely ours,
these ancient burials, stony
homes; the names effaced or blazoned;
signs that remind us that the blind
walk here, the maimed of so many
glass in hand, I’m squinting,
raiding the Moor Benahabet’s
mildewed and fountain-loud estates
for coral, pearls; I’m haunting
of grief-logged palaces,
to find you both – asleep here
with mountains, street-signs, trees, in sepia
waters, where your soft faces
you’re lapped in geraniums,
with fig and carob trees, carnations:
botanical and enduring presence
amid the orchards, among
their imagined scents.
“Sous les Tilleuls”
34, Boulevard Ste Anne
Do you remember our old house under the limes,
the little tower we reached by a spiral stair?
Marseille, late fifties, risky, glamorous times,
with bombs exploding on the Canebière.
The little tower we reached by a spiral stair.
We found a scorpion on our bedroom floor.
With bombs exploding on the Canebière
our grim-faced father drove us to school by car.
We found a scorpion on our bedroom floor.
Words shouted from walls ― ALGÉRIE FRANÇAISE!
Our grim-faced father drove us to school by car.
The other girls called us les petites anglaises.
Strange words shouted from walls ― ALGÉRIE FRANÇAISE!
We learned to speak French fast, soon forgot London;
the other girls called us les petites anglaises.
Ten years before, the house was Unter den Linden.
We learned to speak French fast, soon forgot London.
Marseille, late fifties, risky, glamorous times:
ten years before, the house was Unter den Linden.
Do you remember our old house under the limes?
Poetry in this post: © Anna Crowe
Published with the permission of Anna Crowe