Eduard Schmidt-Zorner is a translator and writer of poetry, haibun, haiku, and short stories. He writes in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and German and holds workshops on Japanese and Chinese style poetry and prose and experimental poetry. Member of four writer groups in Ireland. Lives in County Kerry, Ireland, for more than 25 years and is a proud Irish citizen, born in Germany. Published in over 160 anthologies, literary journals, and broadsheets in USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Italy, France, Bangladesh, India, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Some of his poems, and haibun have been published in French (own translation), Romanian, and Russian language. He writes also under his penname Eadbhard McGowan.
An orange grove next to a group of olive trees lay in darkness behind Varon Rozales’ workshop. The room was filled with smells of paints, inks, and caustics. A working jacket hung on a nail by the door. Along the rough sandstone walls stood tables and shelves with letter cases. A few copper plates, polished and prepared, waited for etchings. One plate showed traces of etching needles and drypoint. Pens for drawings lay ready, lithographs drawn on transfer paper dried on the table.
Varon had completed twenty drawings for a poetry volume of a poetess. She joined him every week for a brief visit. On these occasions, she read a poem, enraptured, monotonous and with a low breathy voice. The verses were delicate and fragile like thin glass.
He cleaned his brushes and utensils in white spirit and spread them on an old newspaper. His eyes fell on a headline in the newspaper “El Pais” ‘Traces of Evil’. The article was missing, had fallen victim to another cleaning purpose. Varon had a sensor for the evil and the good and he knew that evil lurked behind the everyday curtain of this town, was omnipresent.
He left his workshop and walked through the winding, crooked alleyways.
The house roofs emerged in dreamy silhouettes against the darkening azure, the moon shone in the sky.
The cats that usually prowled the alleys had disappeared, the cawing of the crows had stopped, the crickets were silent.
The alleys smelled of the past, of transience, like an old man whose end is near or weathering away, like the bark of an old tree, like the chemical transformation within a fermentation process. The mortar of the house walls held the brownish tuff, some walls were covered with ivy.
Suddenly, from a distance, repetitive sounds could be heard, a beat, like the dull hammering of nails into old solid wood. The sounds came closer.
Varon hid in a porched entrance that provided shelter and made him almost invisible.
Up the alley crept, lindworm-like, a formation of men in white and black robes with rope belts with tassel ends and reinforced hoods with eye slots. They carried a long wooden beam. The procession passed him by with the sound of grinding chains which some trailed behind them. The ghostly, rhythmic pounding of the fraternity sticks that accompanied the floats echoed off the walls of the houses.
Quieter were the sins that fell to the ground, shame-filled, like drops of sweat.
A woman with a black mantilla sang the lament for the deceased, the saeta of the gipsies. She showed her face, while the men hid theirs – they did not want to be recognised doing penance for their sins. The sound of the trumpets played a march similar to that during a bullfight. A man spoke through the wooden ornaments to the bearers, gave three commands. On the third, the float was raised.
The bearers carried the floats and statues over the cobblestones past the cemetery wall with its tall cypresses and stone pines, their umbrella-like crowns pretending to protect them. Some of the black cowl wearers with torches and candles walked slowly barefoot after them.
Rose petals dispersed on the pavement looked like drops of blood.
The procession came to a halt.
There were three knocks on the church door. Three distinct knocks, answered by a rap from inside. The crowd merged and grew to a cluster. Some looked at Varon, some with piercing eyes, some maliciously, some as in a trance. The church door opened, and the Chorale 62 of Mozart’s Saint Matthew Passion could be heard.
Varon Rozales stepped out of the shadow of the porch and turned around the corner of the lane, and rushed up the narrow alley, the contorted staircase, which led to the upper town, taking two steps at a time.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he arrived in front of the tavern Taberna La Mesa.
The light from the windows created a feeling of security in him, which was reinforced by the fragrance of culinary promise that hit him as he opened the door. The innkeeper Alfonso de Leon came out from behind his counter, potbellied, with a black beard.
“Have you seen a ghost?”
“You look so agitated.”
Varon shook his head.
“I can recommend the garlic soup and Potaje de Vigilia, and as dessert torrija, all freshly made for the holy week.”
“I take all three”, Varon said.
The garlic soup, sopa de ajo, was served, hot steaming, made up of garlic, pepper, and chicken broth. The pieces of bread on top and a hard-boiled egg right in the centre added to the texture. Varon trusted that the garlic would keep evil spirits away, when the fortune-teller Flores Bruja, who had sat in a corner, approached his table to offer him to read his palm. She was haggard, looked burdened, with straggly, greying hair and deep-set eyes. She wore a yellow scarf. When she tried to take his hand, her hands looked like claws of a predator.
Her breath was foul and Varon tried to shoo her away:
“That is superstition, misguidance, black magic…”
But she insisted to let him look into his future, an attitude that annoyed him.
He said in Aramaic, el-la paassaan min beesha. (and deliver us from the evil).
She cringed, moved back horrified, ran to the door, collided with the frame and before she ran into the darkness shook her fist at Varon and screeched:
The innkeeper smiled when he served the Potaje de Vigilia, an exceptional stew traditionally served on a Saturday night, right before Easter Sunday. Ingredients included lamb meat, chickpeas, spinach, onions, pepper.
“Don’t mind her, she is possessed”, Alfonso said and tapped his forehead with his fingers.
“200 years ago, her forefathers were the main protagonists of the persecution of the Jews in this town that always started on a Good Friday. Her ancestors died terrible deaths, their female members were burned as witches.”
In the corner developed, what seemed to be a dispute between a former priest, an exorcist and demonologist, Abascal Mendoza and Judge Neri Delgado. The appearance of the defrocked priest was ascetic, somehow mysterious. The overweight, lethargic judge had an air of slimy cynism and arrogance.
Mendoza pointed with his long finger to the judge:
“You are not dispensing justice; you are only feeding the vengeance of the bourgeois. Why are you not walking in the penitential procession? All prosecutors, policemen, bankers, officials of this town are at the procession and wishing that the sweating and suffering under the floats might expiate, erase, undo their sins, and perversities.
You and your kind squander the lives of others. You are rotten and corrupt with a deviant orientation.”
“We only speak justice, follow the written law, and we have the power to do so,” the judge argued.
“You are filled up to here with pride and hubris”, he held his hand to his throat.
“Pride, that is what Satan, the Great Dialectician likes.
Abascal, his eyes were like black coals, leaned forward and whispered into the judge’s ear.
The judge said nothing, looked at Abascal with a pale face, the sweat ran down his forehead.
When Abascal Mendoza passed by Varon’s table, he asked him:
“You got rid of the witch quickly, what did you say to her?”
“Is it professional interest?” Varon sneered.
He did not like the presence of the ex-priest and responded mockingly:
“Child Jesus, come to her, make a pious child of her.”
Abascal laughed: “You are immune against demons.”
“It is a good complaint in this town. How can I be sure that ye are not all demons?”
“No, you cannot, there are so many that if they were visible, they would obscure the sun.”
The presence of the exorcist, who exuded an aura of menace, created an uneasy oppressive feeling in Varon.
The judge, dripping with sweat, looked in despair to the door, through which Abascal had disappeared with a limping gait. After a while, the judge left staggering without saying goodbye.
After Varon had enjoyed his torrija he left. On his way home, still the taste of vanilla and cinnamon on his tongue, Varon saw light in the poetess’ window, and he knocked against the windowpane.
She opened. “I cannot let you in, I am about to go to bed.”
Varon told her that he had finished his work on the illustrations.
“I have written a poem this night, which I would like to add to my collection.”
She handed him a handwritten sheet of paper:
Night vigil of shadows
in a parallel world,
outside our curtain
in a netherworld.
Night vigil, evening mass,
held in darkness,
catafalques and biers,
carry their grave guilts.
Curses, imprecations, evil deeds,
lie on the surface
like water lilies on a lake,
reaching out for the living.
In dark alleys that hate the light
they let the mist rise.
obscure the lanes
where problems arise
behind dimly lit windows.
that drive people to despair
and rob them of their breath,
drive them into death
where black ravens wait.
Ghosts in disguise,
try to shift their torment
to make their millstones
around their necks
Varon felt touched. He told her about the procession in town.
“I have dreamt about this procession, in a nightmare”, she said.
On his way home, he passed the Basilica Santa Maria Consolador de los Afligidos.
The clock on the spire struck. He imagined seeing a man in black, limping into the darkness of a side lane. Varon felt a leaden atmosphere in the square, an oppressive sultriness when something attracted his attention on the other side of the plaza.
Against the wall of the Parador opposite the basilica leaned the judge, his tongue hung out of his mouth in his blue distorted face, his wide-open eyes starred as if he had seen something horrible.
A shaggy dog crossed the square. Varon believed he saw a knowing smile on its face. The dog was wearing a yellow scarf.
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Poetry in this post: © Eduard Schmidt-Zorner
Published with the permission of Eduard Schmidt-Zorner