Thursday, January 7, 2010

The English Cemetary

Catherine Charlotte Anne Eliza,
Graeme Hepburn,
and Henrietta Augusta,
dead, within months of each other.
Dead at two- and four- and nine-years-old,
within the dreadful year of 1851 going into 1852.
Beloved children of Patrick and Mary,
the words are still firmly chiselled, so clear and so
legible more than 150 years later
as I wonder through.
Dead and buried in the cemetery for
non-Catholics of long ago.
In times past they would have been
buried upright on the beach,
washed to sea at night, pecked by gulls,

Kicking through the hot Málaga morning,
trying to make sense of yet another season
in the city of my birth, I step into the
English cemetery. A quiet in the heart of this now
roaring place where they’re now digging up the earth
to make an Underground.
I feel almost peaceful.

I find the graves of the writer Gerald Brenan,
amigo de España reads the gravestone.
Friend to Spain, the words are touching,
as though Spain were reaching out,
vulnerable, wanting to be liked.

His wife, dead in 1968,
‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’,
born in Malta, Gerald Brenan dies in Málaga,
described forever more as an escritor inglés, the
English writer.

Does language always define your nationality?

I wonder too, wandering. Kicking pebbles,
the ground is hard, tough, briny, the sun and
soil do not produce a natural green lawn
in this part of the world.
An urn lies empty beside Brenan’s grave.

Joseph Bertram Griffin dies at the age of forty-eight
in Torremolinos in 1968.
It’s not just in past centuries that people die young.
This time though, instead of a deadly childhood disease,
might it have been cancer?
The grammar is odd: ‘The love of your little Zizi,
the husband you was’.

A plaque for John Bevan who dies in 1816,
too early, before the formation of this cemetery.
Geoffrey Herbert Bruno is buried here in 2000,
even now the grounds are being used.

I look at the apartment blocks,
awnings pulled down against the heat,
and the familiar washing flutters from the lines.
Do they even notice the cemetery now, a fixture,
do they subconsciously avoid it at night,
because, after all, you never know?

What will it take to become Spanish?

In the shop I use my own language again,
it spurts out like vomit.
Effortlessly and without having to think.
The woman who answers me is herself a hybrid:
an Italian American who loves and lives in Spain.

Any donations welcome.
I am the only visitor today.
I don’t want to buy expensive soaps I can’t afford.

The woman runs the American club,
and the shop in this cemetery.
Her husband was a journalist too.
He died last year.

I scurry on, join a group of Spanish women
excitedly exploring the bullring.
I look at them, a tourist to their joy.

Home? A hankering for the crisp, clipped
vowels of the language I speak.
How long does it take before you stop
rushing off to English cemeteries
trying to catch something intangible?
Before you can stop plucking at a little heart of England
gone wild,
in this bustling little city?

(First published on African Writing Online)

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