The garden of the possible


There is an episode in Ben Lerner’s novel Leaving the Atocha Station in which the American protagonist is taken to Granada by Isabel, a love interest. For reasons to do with the complexity of their relationship, they spend a night in the city then leave abruptly, without visiting the Alhambra – their intended destination. The protagonist wonders if he would be ‘the only American in history who visited Granada without seeing the Alhambra.’


I may be one of the few poets who visited Granada without seeing Lorca, or at least his home. We dutifully travelled out to Fuente Vaqueros, his birthplace and the site of a museum dedicated to his life and work, only to find it closed for the 1 de mayo festivo. I was at least heartened to discover a few Spanish tourists also attempting to ring the bell, and nodding in solidarity over our mutually missed experience, before sloping away in frustration.

However, Lorca’s presence shaped the visit. Like Lanyon’s view of Cornwall, it often takes someone born into a landscape to show it to you properly. A far cry from the elaborate prose of Washington Irving, Lorca’s Granada is a place of simplicity and strangeness, of ‘deep and crooked light’, heavy with ‘putrefying perfumes’ where death and life occupy a single location. Nature is always busy and noisy, the frogs ‘the muezzins of shadow’. In the Albayzín and the hills of Sacromonte, it is easy to find his ancient streets preserved. In Manuel de Falla’s house, we even found a chair in which the poet sat to hear the first performance of one of the composer’s works.


There is a lot of blood in Lorca’s poems, and I noticed those sharp gasps of red everywhere, in the soil itself, in the traditional costumes (because of the festivo, women all over town were kitted out in full flamenco gear), in the paintings of saints embracing their martyrdom adorning the monasteries.


It is difficult to remember that this place of extraordinary beauty has always been a place of dispute, from the violent removals of Islamic kings jostling for power; to the Inquisition, and the expulsion of the Muslims and Jews under Catholic rule; to the Civil War, and Lorca’s murder somewhere near the sleepy village of Viznar. I may not have made the pilgrimage to Lorca’s house that I’d been planning (at least I stood outside the door!) but I will be able to envision his landscape now when I read his poems. And visiting during the festivo, this poem in particular (translated by Jerome Rothenberg) captures exactly the mood:

Floating Bridges

Oh what a crush of people
invisible    reborn
make their way to into this garden
for their eternal rest!

Every step we take on earth
brings us to a new world.
Every foot supported
on a floating bridge.

And I know there is no
straight road in this world –
only a giant labyrinth
of intersecting crossroads.

And steadily our feet
keep walking & creating
– Like enormous fans –
These roads in embryo.

Oh garden of white
theories! garden
of all I am not, all
I could & should have been!