In the Alfama

 

In the Alfama everyone smokes. My

lungs, with their love of

tightening, close slightly

as soon as I walk into the air.

 

In the Alfama all streets are

more than cobbled, less than tiled.

 

In the Alfama the pasteis de nata

are always warm and doused

in cinnamon. Dogs wear bandannas

and are leadless.

 

In the Alfama they sing Fado all

night, and when they are finished,

have loud and heedless

conversations outside windows.

 

In the Alfama skylarks wheel, and

the wine and song lingers while people

smile or scowl, embrace or avoid,

put up with tourists, walk

children to school, smoke

in doorways, and remember the night.

 

In the Alfama they sing, every night.

Hearts are strong, from treading hills.

The streets have taught them how to love.

 

In the Alfama there are always cigarette butts between paving stones.

A man waits until he has passed me to spit.

On the old sandstone, graffiti that says SUZI ♡ NINES.

 

In the Alfama there is a woman with a knotted rope lead

wound around her chest and under her shoulder.

Next to her a tawny dog as high as my hip.

When my back is turned he jumps at me,

and I am glad of the contact from a body,

any body, that holds blood, and muscle; a beating heart.

 

In the Alfama I crouch in laneways to write.

No one finds this unusual.

Birds hang from washing lines in cages.

The number 28 tram, famous, dings and rattles past.

Taken over by tourists. I stay back, because I know

it is better to walk, so

poems can find me.

 

In the Alfama the poems find me.

 

In the Alfama a woman jumps in

stars to keep herself warm

while the sun drops from the sky.

 

In the Alfama Fado, the song of the people,

is sung by women with voices

so strong they almost break me.

 

In the Alfama, a globe’s half turn away

from all that I know,

I am home.

 

 

 

On the metro

 

Yesterday, on the metro, I

heard an approaching accordion.

I smiled, because music on trains

does that. And when I turned

to see who was making the song,

saw a man walking down the aisle,

playing, a tiny dog on his left

shoulder, balanced neatly,

holding a small bucket

between its teeth to collect coins.

 

When I dropped my euros (fat coins, double rimmed) in,

I misjudged the distance, and

briefly felt the dog’s gums as I

found my way to the opening. Saw pink speckled

black. Noticed the dog slightly overbalance, then correct.

The man paused while this happened, a touch, a tip,

the wet, that coining plink: their dinner.

 

Obrigado, said the man. The dog,

nothing.