Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Last night

Note: These posts are jumping around in time. It's appropriate to the way time bends, slips, turns in on itself here. More posts will come, from other days.

I am sad as the Portuguese around me today. The last day of workshop, and the crown of privilege that's hovered around my head is dissipating.

In the internet cafe, two new friends sneak up on me while I write. I've known them only two weeks, but in the distortion of days here, our friendships go back years. I push out chairs for them to sit. I don't want to stop seeing them, afraid to let them go, my heart can't take so many goodbyes at once.

I think I'm too tired for another reading, but it lights me up, again. Poetry and harmonica blues. "Some men hand out their hearts like leaflets." In a story, a couple talks about who will die first, letting themselves slip into fear.

I start to think, for the first time in over twenty years, that maybe I can write poetry. At the open mic a few days ago - two months ago, a year ago - everyone called my piece a poem. So maybe I already do.

A. and I put on our party dresses, and we say Wow together as we step out of the elevator. Another fragile wonder, another secret place in the city that has opened to us like a jewelry box. A terrace overlooking the city. The setting sun fires houses on the Alfama hill. We snap up hors d'oeuvres like starving writers, return to the bar for wine and port-tonic. We kiss cheeks again and again and promise to stay in touch.

Later we meet in the Bairro Alto. Impossible that we can find each other, but we do, like homing pigeons, keyed to other writers. We run into each other all over the city. The street is bursting with people, we squeeze by, shoulder to chest to ass, drinks in plastic cups held high over the crowd.

S. beckons and we follow, a long disappearing reappearing line, linked by sight to the person just ahead. Down and down, the crowds thinning but not gone. A white rabbit graffitied on a wall. Down the rabbit hole to a tiny room, where dancers somehow dance, somehow groove and sweat and move to make space for us. We dance to Madonna and Cher, we air guitar, we sing along, eyes squeezed shut and abandoned to this moment, this night, this sweating, jumping room.

I leave without saying goodbye, slip out of the club to my home for one more night. One roommate already asleep, the other already on her way home to the US. A third still out, the place is quiet and dark.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The day after

The men at the outdoor restaurant two doors down are at work before noon. Shirtless over black charcoal smoke. I think of the god Vulcan in his underworld. The man with an apron over bare chest looks up at me as I pass, stepping carefully down the steep cobblestones.

T's feet slipped out from under her and she was airborne, graceful as a dancer, her legs to one side, landing hard on her hip. She's native to Lisbon and still slips. I help her to her feet and feel a little less clumsy. She says it's a controversy: one side passionate for the preservation of Lisbon history, the other dedicated to public safety. High heels are impossible here, though a few women - mostly foreign - teeter down the street on wobbling ankles.

The Alfama apartment is empty now; the others gone, and my head quieting down from two weeks of crackling. I thought I'd write during a writing workshop but every hour was eaten up. I can't seem to pin anything down yet, it's all still shaking and grooving in my head.

I didn't have roommates in college. Here I had three, an intense, short-lived family. Two elder sisters and a younger. We breathed and slept and drank together and each knew when the others came home, or didn't.

There's too much to say, so I'll say this: a beer and peanuts sit in front of me. I'll go to dinner soon, late: it's the fashion in Lisbon. Tonight I'll sleep on the bottom bunk in a hostel room with two young British women. They arrived and I did, we said hello and did not introduce ourselves.

Tomorrow I will swim in the Adriatic. On Monday, I'll step onto a bus and travel to an artists colony. A real Portuguese artists colony: a restored monastery on a river in a national park. A few days to untangle all the shining bits of glory that have knotted up in my head.

And then home.