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On a tour of Europe’s history

this man is eating peanuts

fingers dipping with regularity

into paper bag, with skins, without skins

mouth opening closing, expressionless


Barcelona: Gaudi’s masterpiece of the century

perhaps forever, eight monumental figures

human, superhuman, hymns of reverence

to the creator stretch skywards above the city

dwarfing all, each centimeter a work of art

where faces peer from filigree encrustations

of magic in stone, revealing ever more intricate

delights. Armies of masons and artisans clamber

through its mazes, choirs of them pealing like bells,

tourists gape as the guide estimates forty years

more to reach completion

Cameras flash, some buy mementos

he’s eating peanuts again, head back,

looking into the packet for survivors


Today is Istanbul,

stretched across two continents
an octopus of bridges, mosques, palaces markets

riches and honking traffic, endless rows of restaurants

frown at hungry homeless, four thousand domes

and spires all praying in the morning mist

where the preserved splendor of sultans’ riches

and harems hide legions of conquering armies
and then we turn a corner into colors, rugs, copperware

clothing, spices, halva, three-year old infants

begging in the streets, repetition

after repetition, pistachios, roasted meat

with yoghurt, chai tea, bottled water in ten sizes,

he’s into the biscuits now,

crunches like a mechanical alligator


Croatia flashes by, we pass through villages,

walls of houses crumbling moonscapes, bullet scars

shell holes, children pitted against their neighbors of

yesterday then rolling fields giving way to grapevines

and cloud topped peaks.

His fingers dip regularly, satchel open now

probing for replenishments, raisins

potato crisps with red foreign lettering.

We pass a little cemetery set back from the road

between a grove of trees. He stops eating,

head turns like a camera man following through the window

until we turn a bend and it is lost.


I feel the pain surge up like a spring of hidden water,

see your face appear once again in the tangled branches

of a tree, hear your voice, a cloud sighing on the horizon

lower you once again into that little grave, cover you

with a dun brown blanket, place a garland of roses, a few

stones by your head, set out to see the world, from

the air, from the waves, by bus by train, the months passing

in a blur, Amsterdam, London, Capetown, all the same,

identical citadels of impossible reflections, expressionless

dull grey slabs of pain sliding by in grief.


In Plitvice by the waterfalls, he stays in the bus, opens another

pack of peanuts.  I walk past, then go back, sit down beside

him. He offers me the packet.  Listen I say, I’ve been here

before, it was with my wife, many years ago, but now she’s

gone. Its not much fun going alone. Would you like to come

with me. The water is so clear you can see the fish and

the petrified branches of trees under the water are white

and beautiful.


Together we leave the bus, cameras in hands, looking for

all the world like two happy tourists.

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© Johnmichael Simon



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