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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 2, June 2018
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Kim Richardson
Uxbridge, Middlesex, UK


Sacred Landscape

On the Eve of St. John, feast of fire and water, I drive the few miles down to the sea, take a turn around the village that I hardly recognize and, without stopping the car, head back along the black tarmac road that winds up towards the town on the hill, where seven bonfires are being readied for tonight.

Halfway there I pull in at the saint’s spring. Inside the sanctuary, kneeling on the cool tiles, I run my finger in the groove of the small stone spout.

channeling drips
into a measuring jug
a single olive leaf

Outside, the afternoon sun reverberates on the roadway, stone-faced terraces shimmer; the long, humped headland, crowned with its ancient watchtower, seems to sleep in the creeping sea. The landscape here is overlaid with pasts: the Phoenicians and Greeks whose ships took on fresh water with weighted buckets from undersea springs in the bay and whose painted pottery shards I used, as a child, to pick off the ground by the watchtower on afternoons like these; the Moors who stayed for seven hundred years, then were summarily shipped out to an uncertain fate on the Barbary Coast; the Christians, whose Catholic saint caused (it is claimed) the spring to flow by striking the ground with a rod; the long-gone terraces of mulberry trees that for centuries fed their green leaves to silkworms and gave the village its name.

My own childhood summers identify places for me: the spot at the crossroads, now a supermarket, where father put our sailing dinghy, named after our mother, on chocks to try and sell it; the dark pine-woods, now filled with the white walls of holiday villas, that we walked through each evening to the village and its one bar by the port. The narrow beach where the fishermen pulled up their boats in front of the bar has disappeared under landfill, a sprawl of concrete, an open-air restaurant. The old sea wall has become the inner wall of a marina in which yachts and powerboats clank quietly against their pontoons.

in the distance
beyond the breakwaters
a silent sea

I sit on the low stone bench in the sanctuary and think about these places, the landscape of my childhood, and about tonight, when we will jump over the seven bonfires of purification to the accompaniment of fireworks and applause; I think about how we will drive, later, down to the beach in the dark after midnight to walk in the shallows of the sea and wait, with music, for the dawn. Coming out of the sanctuary into a sunlight that is now beginning to be softened by evening I look up at the terraced vineyards, at the houses that the town has scattered over the brow of the hill, and I suddenly realise that this landscape is, in fact, just like any other; that today I can see it without the overlay of memory, without the redolence of childhood—and that I can, like the Moors and the Greeks and the Phoenicians before me, leave it.

Eve of St. John
above the white houses
swallows and fireworks

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end

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