Tribute To Arzua

by Garry Robert McDougall

Weary pilgrims enter Galician Arzua,
walk its marrow lanes in lime light,
expectant minds fixed on tomorrow,
or the day after, journey's end is
grand Santiago de Compostela.

After long day walk through eucalypt forest,
past red-roofed farmhouse and hórreo,
they are mustard for beds, shower and meals,
Arzua's white buildings, thumping trucks
and burly white vans, the dispiriting
rhythm of the ordinary.

Arzua unpraised, its people versed
in market and school, working the land,
clipt barber shops and spark welding irons,
manning stalls on Rua Padre Pardo,
citizens tender to elder women,
dog-market men rubbing their chins,
everyone a working animal.

In lunchtime park, under tree and sculpture,
ellipse conversations, passers-by carrying
white shopping bags, children display,
a lone pilgrim with jamon, gesso and bread,
reads from a wooden bench encircling
two-legged cement heroes in boots-
not Gods, saints, Franco or Guard Civile,
but a peasant couple hauling two cows
bumping against pilgrim paragraph,

your sculpture,
man and woman pressed against bovine flanks,
she pulls a beast's tail,
he turns a cow's head, with force,
twelve legs upstanding on a bronze base,
cows facing opposite directions,
park visitors never confronted
by two bos backsides.

Literature's eyes put aside, our pilgrim
spies autumnal leaves on brassy base,
uncertain soul discovering
a thin film of dust and oils-
alchemy for bronze,
her fingers touched by Arzua,

her reflection quivering in broken water
quavers revelation:
Arzua is oil, dust and soil,
of agriculture and earthly commerce,
seven-thousand souls, accepting
one-way dreamers following the Milky Way.

Our sculpture speaks
of that round-and-round world
of the doing, hard days
hauling the Rubia Gallega, Frisian
and Alpine Browns,
standing in their muck,
opening and closing gates,
everyone knowing The Way,
twelve legs, hooves and feet
dancing earthly concerns,
townspeople and pilgrim separated
by a thin veil of dreams.

Enchanted at the feet of farmer and bovine,
she confesses:
I dreamt abbeys, saints, cathedrals,
meseta and mountain kings,
Santiago beckoning.
While we walk the world of gramp ideas,
you gives us two cows and two people,
speaking plain and well of sensuality,
commerce and community.
Clever artisan,
embodying the dignity of work,
the dignity of viewing, people
clutching those endearing animals,
perfect picture of fraternity and animal husbandry,
of roundness and affection,
reassuring toughness, seductive continuity.

She declares:
Santiago pilgrim parties pale-
you Arzua, are better
journey's end.

Garry Robert McDougall's picture

A Sydney poet and novelist, Garry gives Spanish Pilgrimage presentations, writes novels and occasional opinion pieces, teaches poetry and exhibits paintings and photographs. He is a member of the DiVerse poetry group and the South Coast Writers Centre executive. In 2013 To San Domingo de la Calzada won Second Prize, Glen Phillips Poetry Prize. In 2012, Beating Time won Highly Commended in the Peter Cowan National Short Story Prize. In 2015, he won First Prize in the Peter Cowan Short Story Prize. His early walks guidebooks, Great North Walk and New South Walks Heritage Walks, were both published with Kangaroo Press. His two novels, Belonging and Trust, are Australian stories based on historical events around 1900 and 1988 respectively. His third novel, Knowing Simone, is set in Victor Hugo's France. He won artist/author in residence with Arteles in Finland, combined with long distance walking journeys in Spain and Portugal, soon to be published as Damn! His novel's common thread is respect for people caught in hostile historical circumstances, dramatising their negotiation of powerful social and historical forces. His poetry might rhyme, be experimental, lyrical, visual or sparse, but time, word, place and the human spirit are paramount.

Last updated July 07, 2016