We sheltered in the lee of the lighthouse
at what was once the end of the world,
the caliphate, for half a millennium.
Lovers still, we watched the squall move eastwards,
obscure the Sagres promontory –
whose fort’s white walls hold the Navigator’s
stone anemometer: shaped like a compass rose,
big as a bull ring, grooved like a millstone.
His caravels outflanked Islam, rounded,
at last, Cape Bojador and made the Slave Coast.
Below us, hunched in crannies on the cliffs,
their rods like jibs, their lines like skeins, anglers –
descendants of Phoenicians, Romans, Saracens
– waited stoically for bass or bream to rise.
The rain lifted. A container ship passed.
Drake, Nelson, and Browning passed: ‘Nobly, nobly,
Cape St Vincent to the North-west died away
…how can I help England?’ In Ireland,
the black rot was already in the fields –
the coffin ships all ready in the roads.
Later, drinking wine the colour of sea grass,
in O Retiro do Pescador, we
watched our black bream split, salted, sizzled, served
with sprouts. Ah, home thoughts! And Mrs. Browning:
‘…a voice said in mastery, while I strove,
“Guess now who holds thee?” “Death, I said.”‘ We
smiled, as lovers do, and gossiped, as
lovers do, about our fellow diners
sotto voce: aging Caucasians
and a young Chinese couple with a child.
Somewhere, a radio played fado softly.
‘”Death”, I said. “Not death, but love.”‘
anemometerblack rotcaliphateCape BojadorCape St Vincentcaravelscoffin shipsDrakeElizabeth Barrett BrowningHenry the NavigatorIslamNelsonO Retiro do PescadoPhoeniciansRobert BrowningRomansSagresSaracensthe Slave Coast