William Heath

William Heath

William Heath has published two chapbooks, Night Moves in Ohio and Leaving Seville; a book of poems, The Walking Man; three novels: The Children Bob Moses Led, Blacksnake’s Path, Devil Dancer; an award-winning work of history, William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest; and a collection of interviews, Conversations with Robert Stone. He was a Fulbright Professor at the University of Seville for two years and has spent a lot of time in Calatonia. He is married to the Barcelona-born novelist Roser Caminals.

For more info, visit William Heath’s website: www.williamheathbooks.com



Every day the sea is a different
shade of blue—turquoise becoming indigo,
aquamarine, cobalt, navy, azure.
At crack of dawn perturbed roosters cry,
clacking cloven hooves of bleating sheep,
gray coats the color of local stones,
and goats—a long rope trailing from a foreleg,
low-slung udders tolling from side to side—
led to pasture in the nearby mountains.
Each morning a different woman in black,
(one bucket, one brush in town) whitewashes
the walls of her house, while another (broom
of straw, plastic dustpan) sweeps the street.
A lean bare-chested man shovels manure
from mat baskets drooping down the back
of his horse, who farts loud and often,
then spreads it across his planted fields.
By afternoon it is too hot to work
or walk the streets. People stay inside,
take a nap or gather at El Guapo,
the town bar. The good-looking owner,
calls me “Señor Tinto.” “You will notice
people here have similar faces,”
he tells me, “because we’re related:
Todo el mundo son parientes.


Maro at night is another story.
The sun sets prismatically on the sea,
a pink glow lingers, suddenly it is dark,
streetlights come on, women sit in doorways,
a constant commentary with neighbors
in loud, throaty voices; the men return
to the bar, discuss crops, weather, soccer,
raucous cries rising with each drink;
children playing games after midnight
make the most noise of all. No wonder
houses lack glass windows: these ear-
splitting sounds would shatter them.
One young girl toots a horn incessantly,
delighting all save one American
sitting on his balcony, sipping wine,
watching the moon over the mountain
emerge yellow-orange, twice as big as
expected, the face unmistakable:
lopsided grin, tilted Picasso nose,
deep-set eyes, inadequate round forehead
brushed by dark gray clouds, yet casting
enough light to reflect off the water
designing the sea in intricate patterns
of pale illuminations, purple shadows.
A welcome breeze rustles sugarcane stalks
offering an elusive promise of sleep.

Previously published in Leaving Seville (Presa Press, 2019)

Balcony of Europe

From a terrace in Nerja
a Mediterranean twilight
settles over the dwindling
waves of the sea, the last
water-skiers scud to shore
in a flurry of spray, causing
bikini-clad girls catching
the fading rays to squeal
in delight. Store shutters
clatter open to welcome
an evening promenade
featuring entire families,
arm-in-arm couples, and
the staccato of hands
clapping flamenco in a bar.
As I sip my granizado
in the far distance I watch
the sun climb the mast
of a yacht whose bright
sails slowly darken until
the flag at the top briefly
glimmers. Behind the town
one by one lights of white-
washed mountain villages
punctuate the dark below
clusters of stars suspended
in a cloudless night sky.

Topless Beach

Quick green lizards dart
back at my step
as I walk down the zigzag path
terraced with tomato patches.
Today I’m sad to find
I have the beach to myself—
last night the movie crew
pulled out, abandoning
three sagging bamboo huts
and a tangled nest
of uncoiling purple film.
No loss there. But where
are the two German girls
whose stout teutonic breasts
could always rouse me from
my dismal swamp of self?
I loved to watch them wade
into the hungry surf—
hands cupping breasts
to shield them from the waves—
it wasn’t hard to taste
the salt tang of their flesh.
Now from the blue-green sea
a man in a black mask rises,
lifting impaled on a metal spear
a limp gray octopus.

Previously published in The Walking Man (Icarus Books 1994)

Last Visit to Barcelona

A long-haired beggar
sprawled on the sidewalk
paralleling the Rambles
where packs of people
promenade day and night
has placed in front of him
four tall plastic cups:
“Wine, Beer, Weed, Food.”
A passing wag remarks,
“I don’t see ‘Cocaine.’”

A flush-faced drunk
in front of the main
government building
explains loudly to his
reluctant listener
a fervent conviction
that Núñez is a better
player than Navarro.

A small sign in the elevator
of our hotel reads: “There
will be no hot water
between 12:00 and 15:00.
Discuss the Discomfort.”

The Little Barber at War

(Catalunya, 1936-1939)

Roser’s Uncle Joan* was called
“the Little Barber” since as a boy
his father taught him to cut hair.
At the start of the war, Anarchists
vowing “death to the bourgeois”
turned the shop into a collective,
paid his father a salary. Joan joined
the fight against Franco. Because
he was nearsighted, his family hoped
he might avoid the Front. When asked
to read some letters, he said they
were blurry. “You’ll see the Moors
well enough once they come after you,”
the doctor warned and soon Franco’s
Moroccan troops were after him.

                                     One day his unit
was bombed by a Messerschmitt.
Joan, lying on his back in a trench,
caught a glimpse of the pilot’s face.
After two attacks, a soldier stood up,
mocked the pilot for dropping his load
short on the initial dive, long on
the second. The third didn’t miss.
Once it was over a few men, unaware
they were hit, sprang to their feet
then suddenly collapsed, dead.
Joan saw a large shell smack
the muddy ground, bounce over
his head, then explode further
down the line. His friend Esteve,
crouching nearby, vanished. Not
a trace left. Joan never forgot
the cries of the dying nor the sight
of the river Ebro running red.

After his unit surrendered he was sent
to a prison camp near the Alicante coast
where a vain Franco captain took him
under his wing as his personal barber,
fed him steak and fries not the usual
sardines and bread. Joan’s father,
an agnostic, had made a promise
to the Dark Virgin of Montserrat
if his son returned home safely
he would make a barefoot pilgrimage
to her shrine up on the mountain.
And so he did. Roser always assumed
her gentle, under-five-foot-tall uncle
had been in the auxiliary services,
a stranger to front-line combat.
He was eighty-one, in the last year
of his life, when he finally told us how
his trench had been bombed, killing
his comrades, many still teenagers.

This poem is about bearing witness
and respecting silence.

Poetry in this post: © William Heath
Published with the permission of William Heath