Literary Orphans

by John Keating


A sestina after Ilya Kaminski.

I will praise her madness.What are you doing now? And now? And now? She cannot stop speaking. I am looking out my window from the hostel on Rua Passos Manuel. I cannot see the Douro or the lamplights bathing the ships. I cannot see the pigeons crawling the streets for crumbs. I cannot see the tourists clinking their glasses. A nossa they say. It’s very romantic.


In my country the evening brings the rain. We fell in love eight years past.


The window pane is white beneath my fingers. Mist rolls off the roofs and the smell I think I can smell, some kind of industrial petrichor coming up through the tiles of the pavement. Here, winter holds the greatest solitude.


Winter holds the greatest solitude. A woman sings fado for ungenerous tips, and fog moves over the face of the city, watching the drunks tumble down its steep hills, watching the senior students, wrapped in black cloaks, hazing the freshers. They make them stand and kneel and bark like dogs. I will praise their madness.


We fell in love eight years past.


The man in the bunk below mine cannot stop speaking. He wants to practise his English on me. He says in my country the evening brings the rainwater. He tells me he is in love with this city. Tonight he will walk along the river! He will see the lamplights bathing the ships, the barrels of port, resting on board, lulled to sleep by the current. He will look up at the buildings which drift up the city, he will dream of its glorious past, when the ships were bathed in lamplight and the Douro bristled with sails. When women balanced baskets of sardines on their heads and tip-toed barefoot up the mosaic of streets, whispering about the coldness of winter and the greatness of their solitude. When the smell of sardines, lifted up off the river on open fires, was carried back by evening on the rainwater. When the fishermen, after eating their fill, got drunk in cafés, singing songs of their madness. They couldn’t stop singing.


We fell in love eight years past.


Only eight years. A whole eight years. Her eyes dip and her breathing slows. She is wearing a vest and only months ago I would kiss her shoulder and it was cool against my teeth. I cannot see the sun outside her window but she is sweating beneath it. I am lamp lit, blue against my computer screen. When I am awake she is asleep and vice versa. It’s geography. She says try to feel happy. She cannot stop speaking. I say you are there. Here, winter holds the greatest solitude. She looks out my window at the towers of the clergy, at the stale crumbling towers. She would praise their tripe and cold green soup, their yearning for the old days, their madness. In my country, she says, evening brings the rainwater.


And evening brings rain, thick with dust, humming off the window. We fell in love. It has passed. This is madness. I tell her about the city I cannot see, about the men having supper and playing checkers on the terrace, about the students serenading each other beneath their blankets of fog, about  the ships bathed in lamplight, and the winter here, and the solitude. I cannot stop speaking.


My roommate returns and tries to speak. In my country, he says, in my country, in my country. The evening brings the rain? I ask. He says winter here holds the greatest solitude, this facade of granite, that quiet church.  He fell in love eight years past: but the lamplight bathing the ships is a lure to reel the tourists in, the barrels are empty, the ships are static. We will praise the madness.

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John Keating is co-editor of The Penny Dreadful literary journal. He has had work published in Litro, The Shop, and The Newer York Book 3 among others.


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–Art by Sarah Hardy