Two Dead Poets
A Poet Revisits Lorca’s Death
Madrid / Granada, July 1936
Clouds gathered over the capital. A rising storm. Rumors slouched through streets and squares. Hunched in coffee-shops. Puffed at cigarettes. Struggled up stairways. Stumbled down alleyways. Lorca took it all in but was not taken in. He knew the signs. War marched through back streets and alleys. War. Civil war. It was time. Time for the poet to leave Madrid and return to Granada. He had family back home. And friends to protect him. That Falangist poet, still his best friend, a Black Shirt from the start. He’d know what to do and how to protect him. He would be safe in the south. Among his own people. Warmth and sunshine. His own southern hills.
The poet now packing. Remembering writings. A wilderness of words where one day they’d trap him. A bullet to the head, like so many others. He’d learned to fear them, those leaden-skulled policemen. Apocalyptic horsemen. Black horses. Black horseshoes. Skulking their skulls with no pitying tears. Nocturnal, hunchbacked. Inside their heads, a night sky of pistols, skillfully hidden. A bright light above him, the moon in the sky. Guitar strings weeping. Sweet sound of music. Hot tears spurting. Bitter-sweet memories. Papers and poems. They couldn’t come with him. He’d have to destroy them, not leave them behind.
Outside his front door, blind lottery seller, the man who sold him his weekly ticket. Lying there last week. A shot to the head. That night, in the square, bleeding and wailing, his sweet-hearted flower-girl who gifted him flowers in exchange for new poems. On the ground she lay broken, beaten and bloodied. In his pocket his money wept in the moonlight. He took from his jacket his bright silver savings. Pressed them upon her. Accepted a flower. A bright red carnation. The color of her blood.
Faces on the southbound train flickered through his brain. Black-and-white photos, filled with potential. He studied their faces. Spider-web wrinkles. The humorist’s eye. Shyness awaking. That young woman’s blush with its promise of children, a hint of the unborn breaking into blossom. Old age defiant, grim-faced and wrinkled. People came in, sat down for a moment, then got up and left. Nobody saw him. Nobody knew him. An anonymous poet: he preferred it that way.
He opened his notebook. Penciled a sentence. An image. A metaphor. A rhythm, a rhyme. He studied their faces. A pair of black eye-brows. An old woman’s shopping. Brown wicker basket, its ribs inter-woven. Black market food. Closer to home, he looked up at last.
A new man. A cold man. His face a sharp hatchet. Trained face of a killer. Killing for pleasure. Pleasure, pure pleasure. Wearing street clothes. Hatchet-face opposite, staring at the poet. Stoney grey eyes. Tight-lipped and silent. The poet turned away. Went back to his notes, but he wrote no more.
When they got to Granada, the poet stood up. Hatchet-face rose. His hand touched the poet. Tapped on his arm. Caught his attention. “I know who you are.” So close. Face to face. Brandy stank on Hatchet-face’s breath. “I’ll be watching and waiting. You’re that maricón poet who trashes the police force. I know what you do.”
When he got to his house, his Mother warm-wrapped him. Pride shone from her eyes. She hugged, pulled him tight. Father just smiled. Stared into his face. Fresh signs of ageing. New signs of stress. “You look just the same.” A nodding of heads. The poet climbed upstairs where grandma lay sleeping. She always slept lightly. Woke up abruptly. Saw him there standing. A tear left her eye. “So glad you’re back home.” She felt for his arm. Held tight with both hands. “Now you’ll be safe.” She then fell asleep. He kissed his own finger, stroked a cross on her forehead. Went back downstairs. Left her there sleeping.
The young ones all loved him. They climbed on his lap. “Tell us a story.” They made him make music: guitar and piano. “Sing us a song. Write us a rhyme.” He sat by the window where light flooded in. Nursery rhymes, fairy tales. Whatever they wanted. Many that he’d written, some written by others, even some by his friend, the Black Shirted Fascist, a Falange First Founder, but always his friend. Sunbeams danced outside in the garden. Flowerbeds and fountain. Seats in the shade. Happiness and joy. The sundial smiled.
Next day Lorca woke to storm clouds and thunder. Black shirts and batons. Black leather coats. Bright, polished buttons. Gold braid and medals. Everything shiny. A stamping of feet. High-handed salutes. More and more people stopped in the street. Papers. More papers. Papers galore. Checked and rechecked. Freedom no more. “Quick now, come with us.” Black cars waiting. Victims bundled like beggars into dark alleys never to emerge. That night, all night, torchlight parades. Singing and candlelight. Fascists rejoicing. Common people shocked. Broken arms, broken noses. Glass breaking all night.
Rebellion? Revolution? Who cares what it’s called. Civil war came. Just as predicted. Break into armories. Break out the guns. Arm all the people as quick as you can. People aren’t soldiers? Turn school yard and playing fields and into military barracks. Teach new lessons: how to handle a gun. Time limped then stood still. Anguished clock faces, hands raised in despair. Eyes turned skywards. No answer from on high.
Clouded the sun. Silent the sundial that cannot count hours. Time lost. Time frozen. Face of the Hatchet-man. Casting its shadow. Lorca looked up. Nobody there. The poet shivered: he’d already been warned. A black car passed. Ticking, its engine. An alarm clock ticking Or was it a time bomb? Alarm bells rang. The slow storm built. Stilled now all songs save military anthems boot-stamped in the streets.
Awaking at night, any street, any town. What’s that ticking? An engine? A clock? Two grandfather clocks? At midnight, fierce knocks. Black cars waiting. “Come now, be quiet. Women and children: you don’t want to wake them.” “It’s all a mistake.” “Of course, it’s all nonsense. A chat, that’s all. Please bring your papers. Quick there. Look lively. You’ll soon be home.” Nets drew tighter. Circles closed in. What to do? Where to go? Nobody knew.
Downstairs in the kitchen Lorca’s family meets. “That close friend of yours, now a politician. Your childhood friend. The one who wrote poetry. Wears now a Black Shirt. Trust him you must.” “Him you can’t trust.” “He’s your best chance.” “He’ll sell you out.” “Your only chance.” “You think I should trust him?” “Trust him you must. Think of the women. Think of the children. Sleep on it. Think on it.” A time bomb, ticking. The poet in bed. Turning and tossing. Moon peered in. Looked on him drowsing. Moon shadows dancing. Time standing still. Pale, breathless stars.
He went to his friend’s house and knocked on the door. The door quickly opened. “You?” “Yes, me.” His dear friend, the poet. Or was it the politician? Black shirt. Black belt. Polished boots shining. “Don’t come here. Don’t trust me.” “You’re all that I’ve got.” “They’ll make me betray you.” Gesture. Intonation. Gesture and meaning. A hand on the shoulder. A swift glance around. “Come in then, quickly.” Slam the door swiftly. Lock it up tight.
His friend’s family gathers, meets with the poet. “You mustn’t stay here.” “Stay here you must.” “I’ll go.” “Just go.” “They’ll make you betray me.” “Stay here. Don’t go. You’ll be safer with us.” White face, lace curtains. Brown eyes peering out. Days spent in the friend’s house. Silent the street. An occasional car. No sign of Black shirts, other than the family’s. Black cars slowly passing. “He’ll soon be gone.” “They’ll come and fetch him.” “The sooner the better.”
Two in the morning. Loud knocks on the door. Louder and heavier. “Open up now, or we’ll break down the door.” Black car at corner. Ticking its time bomb, ready to explode. A hand on his shoulder. Alarm bells ringing. The poet awakes. Black Shirt, his friend, stood by his bed. “They forced me to fetch you. You must dress right now.” Behind him, the Hatchet-man, gun in his hand, threatening both. The poet got dressed. Went down stairs. Hatchet-man with pistol. “I knew where you’d go. Be quiet. Be good.” “It’s all a mistake.” “Of course, it’s an error. We just want to chat. You’ll soon be back.” Black Shirt, the poet, poet walked to the door. “I’ll travel with you.” Hatchet-face stopped him. Wagged index finger. A shake of the head. “No.” “You said ‘No’?” “No room in the car.”
Midnight, full moon. Streetlights flashing by in a full flush of stars. Stars bearing witness but writing no notes. The car wrapped in silence. Silent the poet. Wrapped in moon shadow. A man on each side. Hatchet-face driving. Silent the night. Silent the moonlight. The moon softly sailing between silken clouds. Night-black the car, its car engine still ticking. Time woven from starlight. A thin silver cloak.
No judge and no jury. A settling of scores. Justice by blood. Hatchet-face driving beneath shifting stars. The moonbeam a headlight. A lamp in the sky. Lighting the road. Hatchet-face driving. A gun at his side. Face set in concrete. Grey in the moonlight. No friendly Black Shirt. Lorca’s hands tied. A man on each side. Blackened their shirts. Blackened the night. Silvered the stars. Fascist-style facets cutting the night. Pitiless gemstones hard in the sky. Up, they go, up, into highlands.
The moon a bright blade slicing the heavens. Lorca hands tied. Bruised now and battered. Kneeling at ditch-side. Teeth chattering, clattering. Old scores being settled. Grudges inflicted. Single the shot. Soft flesh bursting. Brittle bones breaking. First bullet in backside. “I bet he liked that. Here comes another. Take that. And take that.” “How he must like it. For a maricón, that’s just right.”
Lorca lies dying. Bleeding and kicking. Three Black Shirts watching. Joking and smoking. Smoking and smirking. Black boots shining. Bright patent leather. A kick to the ribcage. Another to the stomach. A third to the groin. Testicles crushing. The last shot. The killer. To the back of the head. The men roll him over into the ditch.
Back in the bar. White wine for preference. Crimson the blood streaks. Bright from the bullets, carved from the corpse. Black Shirts rejoicing. Shouting and singing. Shark teeth shimmering. Black Shirts feasting. Drinking red blood. A toast to the poet. “We killed him for pleasure.” “Old scores to settle.” “Maricón, maricón.” The Black Shirts Chanting. “Maricón, maricón.” “¡Viva la muerte!” “Far better off dead.” Sharks in their element. Bloodied their hands. Their consciences clean. All for the Fatherland. Toasting two poets. One dead in the ditch. The other at the bar, dead in heart, dead in head.
Roger Moore (BA [Bristol], MA, PhD [Toronto]) is an award-winning poet and short-story writer. Born in Swansea, the same town as Dylan Thomas, he emigrated from Wales to Canada in 1966. He has lived in Fredericton, New Brunswick, since 1971. An award-winning author, CBC short story finalist (1987 and 2010), WFNB Bailey award (poetry, 1989 & 1993), WFNB Richards award (prose, 2020), he has published 5 books of prose and 25 books and chapbooks of poetry. His collection of short stories, Bistro, is the only self-published book to have been a finalist (2016) in the NB Book Awards. Over 150 of his poems and short stories have appeared in 30 Canadian magazines and literary reviews, including Arc, Ariel, The Antigonish Review, the Fiddlehead, the Nashwaak Review, Poetry Toronto, Poetry Canada Review, Quick Brown Fox, the Pottersfield Portfolio and The Wild East. Roger was the Atlantic Provinces Director for the League of Canadian Poets (1991-1993). He is now a member of TWUC (The Writers’ Union of Canada), the WFNB (Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick), and IGDA (the Institución Gran Duque de Alba, Ávila, Spain). He and his beloved, Clare, have lived in Island View, New Brunswick, for over thirty years with their cat, Princess Squiffy, but they live on the far side of the hill from the St. John River, with the result that there is not an island in view from their windows in Island View. More details of Roger’s literary career are available at these links: https://rogermoorepoet.com/ and https://nble.lib.unb.ca/browse/m/roger-moore
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