Issue 14
The Good Road

High above the Douro Valley is a road
that for birds is a distant terrace of sunlight
on a mountain covered in bell heather
and gorse—amethyst and gold tapestry lit against
an archetypal sky. It is May and we
are utterly lost. The men we encounter
in the light spring heat along the road,
brandishing gray caps
cannot help us. It is impossible they seem
to say—they are kicking
the dirt around with their heavy shoes
watching the puffs of brown smoke burst
as the sweet air settles loosely around
their ankles. We have no choice but to drive on
and follow the road’s endless tail
as it climbs steeper still
toward heaven perhaps?
I am swallowing hard as thick tears
well up in my eyes, obscuring everything.
All I miss about America right now is the steel
guard rail that would invariably
brace a road like this, a compost of gravel,
soil, matter, chunks of asphalt,
fragments of porcelain
as well as a few flattened wild flowers, probably
purple—the rough cliff beside us
and every curve a passing zone
for trucks? Still, I am as happy
as I can ever recall
when I open my eyes for a split second
and view the Douro River below
that, no other word will do, dazzles
with its streaks of midnight blue, yellow
and shards of silver, flowing
at the speed of inevitability, moving in
and out of focus as my provincial tears
leak out slowly. “Look!” you say,
exuberant and young, “this is why we
came here.” You’re crowing
about the fact that the abyss
that separates us from other worlds
doesn’t alarm you, that
the idea of plummeting
off the cliff
like some huge silent sneeze doesn’t trouble you
nor does the river below
and the part when everything goes black.
Still—it is you behind the wheel
and my life is entwined with yours like bell heather
and gorse, and we are safe.
The feelings are boundless,
the pleasure, the fear, measured against a capacious river
in Northern Portugal
where the grape vines are as old as they are generous.
Maybe it’s not about falling
but the idea of disappearing entirely
like a dream
in another country
where none of the grief
is your own.