First the gole flew solo – a palo seco – ,
before the bailaores’ feet flamed
the ground that fettered them, (and gold bled),
before they turned like caged Punjabi tigers,
hand-speaking to the heavens. Only the gole
went through bars, through locks,
able-bodied as the wind, face to face with Undivé.
Before the string machinery of guitars,
came drawers, baskets, washing boards,
the miner’s pickaxe, the staff that threshed
the olive tree, the farrier’s anvil,
all to beat the blood pulse for compás.
But first, the gole’s pilgrimage,
stripped and barefoot, up and down
the ladder of thorns, the gusts of the soul.
Out on the fields, the ripe grapes guiyaban
all ten fingers for the picking,
the olives hail-fell at the fist-held thresh-pole.
The gole went farther on its own.
Not as the crow flies, or stones fall;
more in the mood of the bees and the wasps,
the lark fussing over the morning,
the moth on a twilight trial, undeterred
by musical theories, the canons of the west.
The hondo gole did not cast a landline
from A to B, but ran unroped
around the mouth of wells
where it fetched fresh water and kisses,
and rode a grasñí through the open
wrought-iron gates under the orange blossom
on nights when a full moon waned.
The hondo goles sat by the live fire
inside the furnias where they gave birth,
where they gave death their breath,
their olive branch bodies, their duquelas.
Those eight neat steps in tones and semitones
two times up and two times down from middle C
from piano scales are missing pith:
the hair-breadth fractions needed to vent
the last words of a mother, (the bells’ tolls),
while the son rotted in jail, the letter
sent and lost. Camelo de gachí
across the river, the horse that knows the way
to hers, the handkerchief she washed for him,
kneeling by the stream, the gasp of mint
under her heels. A visit to the asylum
where his only penchí nursed
a rag-doll. The green lemons that they ate
three times a day during the famine,
and the flowers she sold along the streets,
filling the alleys with oil-sleek threads
of quarter notes. If the tatters of one’s brother
are pulled out from the rubble
in the mine, or a gachí climbs
to the flat-roof to hang sheets in the sun,
there is little pop songs can do about it.
This life of theirs would take no lift-shaft
up to the summits of the major tones
lost in thin air beyond the colour of vowels,
but wind-rent-wings it steep enough
for free-falling from the clouds
to the heart of the matter,
where the soul rinses the week’s wash
in the elbow of the river,
a dress snags in the briar’s thorns,
the moon’s horns send goles in drift-spins.
The poem is inspired by the history, music and lyrics of cante hondo. Hondo is Spanish for ‘deep, profound’ and refers to the most ancient, authentic and emotional styles of flamenco singing. A palo seco means ‘a capella’; bailaores is ‘dancers’; compás is rhythm with its beat and stress patterns; each flamenco ‘palo’ or song style has a unique compass, some of them bewildering complex. The rest of the words in italics are Caló, the Spanish Romani, which is related to Sanskrit: gole:voice; Undivé:God; guiyaban:wanted; grasñí:mare; furnias:caves; camelo:love; gachí:woman; penchí:sister; duquelas: grief, misery.
Posted in support of Romani Literature, Identity… and You, a charity benefit by Trafika Europe to support the European Roma Rights Centre, on Sunday, 16th June 2013, 7pm at Conway Hall, London WC1R 4RL.
Cristina Navazo-Eguía Newton‘s most recent book is Cry Wolf (Templar, 2013)