Cabo da Roca

Published in Front Range Review (2021)

So here we are,
side by side in this desolate place,
this end of the Earth
where the wind is so ever-present
that it is a thing with weight and shape,
thrashing the maze of woody brush that
can survive here, gnarled and bent
to shoulder the beating.

We have come from Lisbon,
the Jerónimos Monastery,
a morning walking its geometry—
ancient, manicured lawns,
bound on all sides by
two identical,
wedding-cake tiers
of arched white colonnades.
Once, a day’s journey from the sea,
now an hour’s drive.

In the Monastery,
as we moved in and out of the striped shadows
cast across the well-worn paths,
I imagined the sequestered men
who first walked here, feeling the same
pattern of sun and shade
play on their skin.
And I think they must have counted steps,
as I was doing, a game as they
paced the courtyard’s perimeter—
snuck in a one-two-three among the rosaries,
made a secret rhythm of beads and sandal steps,
as they passed each arched entryway to the dark interior,
four-five-six, across on the diagonal to the middle,
then round the fountain, seven-eight-nine,
and back to the outer edge along the path’s mirror opposite.

Standing on the cliffs with you now,
buffeted by the wind,
our hands buried in our pockets,
I wonder if it is a sign of aging
that the cloister felt more a refuge than a prison.
A decade ago, I would have found
the view of red tiled roofs,
just visible from within the high walls, cruel.
Even more so, the ministry of these monks—
taking sailors’ confessions
through the iron-latticed grates.
Hearing their exploits, smelling their sweat.

Now it seems the sane choice.
Outside—disease, hunger, violence,
the end of the earth.
Crazy were the whispering sailors,
blessed and forgiven,
returning to the sea,
catching the wind in their sails,
and not turning back the moment land and lovers,
children and mothers,
shrunk to a dot and disappeared,
nothing ahead except ocean.

Standing here,
I count the things I was not prepared for,
organize them into categories.
Category one: all the endless ways I cannot protect my children.
Category two: my aging body.
Category three: that my world, our world, would become an ocean.