The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 14 no. 1


Penelope Shuttle

On the Path to the Ruins, Relleu


By long easy slinks and zigzags,
so goes the rocky Via di Calvari, from shrine to shrine
up to the chapel, and on above
the horseshoe formations of almond trees
in their stark white adorations —
shaking and unpicking their novice sleeves —
On a natural seat in a niche of the rock,
just below the turn leading to the ruins, 
I spread my jacket, settle my back
against warm accepting stone.
A ring of mountains standing in front of mountains
runs round the village’s low-set hugger-mugger
of narrow streetsv where The Blue House of the Magistrate takes precedence —
a grunting bulldozer’s digging rubble
out of the shell of the long shut-up house
now being readied for some rich incomer.
Passing by an hour ago I saw an old painted tin chest,
full maybe of old law books,
shoved back on a jagged edge of broken floor,
watched men hauling years of rubbish
from the neglected orange grove, the fruit dropt,
or rotting on the little tense twisted boughs.

Dust rises from the far boundary of the village —
like genies from brick bottles, apartment blocks
shoot up on an old olive plantation....
In some poor-quarter courtyard,
the same big tethered dog barks all day,
every day.

Gathering-up a handful
of sun-whitened sepulchers,
tiny beautiful snail shells, 
I try to measure distances,
first in real miles (1000? 2000?),
then in unreal miles —
I'm far from home — Cornwall glitters its first dusk stars
in the corner of my mind’s eye
but doesn’t concern me now — its the unreal distance
between us I’m thinking about, a straitening path
neither of us can scramble up or down,
a wide river we can neither bridge, swim nor sail across,
a separating sky no plane yet designed can traverse —
so far are you from me, me from you.

Stone by stone, I build a little memory cairn
here beside me on the rock ledge,
encircle it with the empty snail shells,
then leave it to the last of the sun and the evening blue
and every dawn the world has already planned
out down to the very tiniest detail....

Beloved, lost to me,
at every curve on my downward path
a single black iris rises tall from the stony earth....