The Artist of Portugal

I once met a man in Portugal
an artist by trade, the story goes.
What he painted or sculpted, no one knows.
Love child of the 70s,
wild like the decade that birthed him.

From the early morning
as Porto’s rain clouds start to crawl into town
carried in by the thick ocean breeze,
till the golden hours
when the sun glides to its resting place
the last sunrays beaming into our kitchen windows
as we cook our dinner
and set it out, wobbly patio table
bites of pasta, gulps of Super Bock
between puffs of laughter and hand-rolled cigarettes
we’d find him – there!
Smiling down at us from his balcony
in metal table and chair,
white as the untamable mane on his head.
He’d have a wine glass in one hand, red always
and a pen in the other
sipping on merlot, writing away.

A writer by choice, the story goes.
About what, in what language,
what fashion, no one knows.
Mumbles out different answers when you ask him about it
“The mathematical reasoning for the Bhagavad Gita” or
“The analysis of something or another”.
The subject of his composition was of no importance.
Just that he’s been writing for a long time now.
Three years to be exact.
Has lived in so many different cities,
slept in so many different beds now since he’s began.
Plans on finishing the book in Venice or Madrid,
or some other nameless city
just that he’s leaving soon.

“What are you going to with your book,
when you finish it?”
“Rip it all to shreds.”
Rip every words, every pages
to strips and pieces,
going to take a year to do it.
Going to turn those strips and pieces into a sculpture!
So everyone can read it!

Crazy talk.
And so it went, that summer of our youth.
Stories and laughters flowing through our days.
Until one way, when we woke up as usual
to the sound of the street cleaner singing outside our window
to find the man – gone…
White metal chair and table empty
of the being that embodied it.
Got on the first train to Madrid or Venice
no one knows.
Off he went, to fill the space of a new balcony,
new faces to smile down at.

It’s been years since I’ve left Portugal.
The people that encapsulated Porto for me
have all departed to different cities, different lives.
Alleyways to run down in
holding hands of strangers that are not mine.
I think about the man sometimes
in Madrid, or Venice, or another nameless city
busily shredding his book away
or building his sculpture
or onto writing another book
to pour himself into.
Atlas, destroying himself with his own bare hands.

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