Finding Praça do Comércio

Like some others, this poem was inspired by my time in Lisbon in 2015. Most of us have spent the decade following the last financial crisis observing outcomes worsen for a lot of people in a lot of places as inequality and corruption increased… Without having the power to either stop the forces of history driving that march, or not feel them.

“Finding Praça do Comércio”

The water calls you even if your feet are as stupid as mine,
not knowing direction in your own country,
much less finding your way wandering, except
there is no more way to find, but you know what I mean.
Every time I’d wander out, I’d find myself at the water
and so the city center where the Tejo meets the Atlantic,
or nearly enough that the water tastes of salt
and the cruise ships look embarrassing.

Juan wants to sell me weed.
Nicolás wants my number.
And a tiny, unbent butterfly of an ancient, burnt sienna woman
dressed in a doll-pink dress and backpack, long white pants and orthopedic shoes,
red hair barrette, gold hoop earrings, silver cane,
and imperial frown lets me walk beside her in the protest against the failed bank,
showing me her statement with her money she can never have—
her life savings, stolen by bankers who will get away.
I ask if I can take her picture, and she has me snap
her paper with my cellphone, too, as if believing
in my ability to see, or know who to show.

But I never know who to tell anymore.
So much is going wrong.
Someone give Lucilia Santos Cruz her 106.56 euros back.
Or was that all she had left after the theft?
I am trying to understand the world and failing,
because the world does not make sense.

Still the water pulls me, away from the shouting of protestors
who would like to but will not attack the bankers’ police in their new riot gear,
away from the wider everyday bustle of Baixa,
away from the litter and mosaics of Lisboa,
to the smooth stones and mossy rocks by the gently rocking water.

One circle of stones not too far out looks like a wreath underwater,
or a nest the fish-birds are flying over, skipping stoney kisses
across the bright and cloudy surface of their sky.
A young boy’s melody of question laces a father’s answer
as a migrant’s bench-beat hugs the farther coast,
and there is so much music in all this longing.
The water pulls us—its force without logic, demand without reason,
peace without words.