from Odes: 30. The Orotava Road

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Four white heifers with sprawling hooves
trundle the waggon.
Its ill-roped crates heavy with fruit sway.
The chisel point of the goad, blue and white,
glitters ahead,
a flame to follow lance-high in a man’s hand
who does not shave. His linen trousers
like him want washing.
You can see his baked skin through his shirt.
He has no shoes and his hat has a hole in it.
‘Hu ! vaca ! Hu ! vaca !’
he says staccato without raising his voice;
‘Adios caballero’ legato but
in the same tone.
Camelmen high on muzzled mounts
boots rattling against the panels
of an empty
packsaddle do not answer strangers.
Each with his train of seven or eight tied
head to tail they
pass silent but for the heavy bells
and plip of slobber dripping from
muzzle to dust;
save that on sand their soles squeak slightly.
Milkmaids, friendly girls between
fourteen and twenty
or younger, bolt upright on small
trotting donkeys that bray (they arch their
tails a few inches
from the root, stretch neck and jaw forward
to make the windpipe a trumpet)
chatter. Jolted
cans clatter. The girls’ smiles repeat
the black silk curve of the wimple
under the chin.
Their hats are absurd doll’s hats
or flat-crowned to take a load.
All have fine eyes.
You can guess their balanced nakedness
under the cotton gown and thin shift.
They sing and laugh.
They say ‘Adios!’ shyly but look back
more than once, knowing our thoughts
and sharing our
desires and lack of faith in desire.


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