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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 1, March 2013

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Gerry Jacobson
Canberra, Capital Territory, Australia


The Way

1. The Track Divides

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the road less traveled by

                                    —Robert Frost

The track goes on through a dark oak wood. Two black figures walk ahead of me in the sunken bridleway, a holloway worn down by the feet and hooves of history. The track divides.

where
are we going today
St Jacques
our patron saint
of pilgrimage

One of my companions stands, arms folded, on the direct shorter path. The other sits, arms folded, beside the longer but more scenic path. Carefully I estimate distances. Half way between them, I long to slash the atmosphere with my trekking poles.

my candle burns
in an ancient shrine . . .
Ave Maria
Gratia Plena
heal our pilgrim family

We take the longer path. It's a fragment of the old pilgrims' way, the Voie de Tours, one of four routes that converge to form the Camino Frances leading to Santiago de Compostella.

once they walked
this long straight track . . .
silent now . . .
a gentle breeze
twitter of birds

We cross a muddy creek on an old stone bridge. Is that a gravestone embedded in it? Mosquitoes swarm. For a thousand years they and their ancestors have drawn pilgrims' blood. Then an engraved milestone: it's 860 km to Santiago. I feel tired, sit down in the noonday heat.

first glimpse
of distant mountains
in the clouds . . .
our destination
is shrouded in mist

2. Fragments

And the end of all our journeying
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

                                    —T.S. Eliot

I wake in the grey dawn knowing what I need to do. Walk down St John Street, past the cathedral to the river. On the Millennium Bridge I tear up my credencial and throw the fragments in the river. I watch them float away, and with them, all the sweat of a 400 km walk, the torture of crowded hostels, all the sadness of a family breakup.

three pilgrims
went walking in France
and in Spain
couldn't find signposts
and so lost their Way

Tide's on the ebb and the fragments are carried out to sea. Will some end up at Finis Terre, the end of the known world? I'll never reach it now. The wind carries my song to Spain "It's time . . . to say goodbye." The sky weeps. Gentle, bitter tears.

every morning
I wake at five
ready|
to move on—
but the track has vanished

Why did my journey end at Puente la Reina, a little town in northern Spain? I was disorientated in Spain, didn't know a word of the language. And there was a split in the trio. One pilgrim was walking on ahead, and I felt unsupported.

when you walk
the same dusty pathway
your boots
become the same colour
but do your souls merge?

And I was tired. Twenty days on the track from Bordeaux and feeling the impact on an ageing body, I needed a rest day. But when we reached that town I knew that I couldn't go a single step further.

black pastel
borders my page
a dark shadow
strides towards
Santiago

Was there something in the fetid air, the narrow streets of that dark mediaeval town? Heavily churched, it is the junction of ancient pilgrimage routes from France. Did my cells carry some ancestral memory? What happened at Puente la Reina in 1492? What spooked me? And one of my fellow pilgrims also turned back there. Was she spooked?

running away . . .
the fires of Spain
lick our feet . . .
jew-boy and witch
escape the Camino

3. Over the Ocean

My Bonnie lies over the ocean

                                    —Traditional Scottish song

"My body lies over the ocean . . . !" Oh no it doesn't, it's my mind that's over there these days. A hangover from the Camino. Is it two months since?

My body was there! Sweating summer through the dogpoo'd roads of France; hauling itself over the high Pyrenees; pounding the dusty tracks of Spain—tracks lined with toilet paper. My body ached and groaned and after three weeks had had enough.

sore shins
and gastrocnemius
tortured quads
and tender tendons . . .
twinges in the glutes

That's when my mind took over. My inner Camino began when my outer Camino finished. Body returned to London, Stockholm, Sydney, Canberra, family, friends. Returned to dance, sing, cook, write, ride a bike.

But Mind failed to return. It stayed out there. Was it because one fellow pilgrim was still walking on to Santiago? because I was angry with her? jealous? Was it because I felt guilty, ashamed of running away, leaving her out there? because I felt the pain of separation, of lost love?

blinded . . .
can't see the Way
lost
on a long hard road
that's paved with tears

I walked for twenty days, churned for forty. Ancient advice kept coming up in my head: "sit with it, that loaded brick of grief!"

might have been
never will be
sad
shivers my belly
journey unfinished

And I did sit with it. I sat it out. The old dark stuff rose to the surface, out into the sunlight of an austral spring morning.

finishing
the journey
looking
backwards at the path . . .
standing on the threshold


Author's Note: credencial— pilgrim's passport.

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