Come early tomorrow, Vincente,
so we can make more beautiful things.
You say goodbye precisely at five thirty,
Same as always, time measured
Like timber and stone.
Precision and habit, joists of beauty.
Patience and ritual, trusses of art.
You walk with a dog-eared Gospel
In one pocket; in the other,
Nuts and seeds to sustain your shrinking frame.
At Carrer de Bailén, you turn towards the sea
At the middle of the earth. Your steps are slow and even,
Keeping the meter of your thoughts as you prepare to confess.
Padre Mas awaits, same as always, to dispense absolution,
To perform the ablution that will cleanse you for tomorrow’s
Eucharist or for heaven, whichever comes first.
Have you ever made a pure confession?
You wonder as you walk. The sins you confess
Return to your conscience like flies to a horse’s tail.
Not immediately—but in strange hours, strange times:
At midnight in the crypt when the lamp is snuffed and
You draw the basement blackness to your chin like a thin blanket.
Or at midday at your desk as you review an invoice for iron and bricks.
Or as you tinker with a model of weights and strings, casting
For that precise balance. Old sins flow into your mind
With the strength and regularity of the tide.
Sin and being, sin and past. The present
Collapsed at the place of the skull,
Slumped beneath the faulty vaults of who we are.
Can that mountain be razed by a gesture or a word?
You wonder. You doubt. And you add this to the calculation,
The equation you’ll present to Padre, to ensure that
The product of extremes equals the product of the means.
(Assuming you really do see him at the end
Of this walk—God willing, for the man is old.)
Waves of remembrance curl in,
Rough and white-capped.
Insults. Slights. Stupidity.
Suffocating propriety. Greed.
The petty pride they called competition,
As if their dreary, drowsy faculties could ever compare
With heaven’s own artistry. Fools!
They thought you were making buildings
Rather than the mystic speech of stones,
The rocks that cry out our self-silenced praise.
You stank, they said, of incense and sin.
Blasphemer, they said, when you defied the skies,
When you raised babies in the city morgue
By your own hands to live again on the Temple face.
Apprentice, it doesn’t matter when you finish.
You will still be building on the other side,
Where the weights and measures are true,
Where he builds a place for you.
You hear a voice! Joan Matamala greets you
From another time. You recall long Sunday walks
With Joan and his cousin from Santa Maria del Mar to the sea.
One day you sat on the wall and listened as
Llobera read his translation of Homer into Catalan.
The sea sang hosannas that day, joined in harmony
By a hot wind streaming from the mountains.
Catalan, the tongue you loved more than any woman,
Honored more than any king, so that before Alfonso
No worldly lord was more worthy than that lordly tongue.
Besides, you knew Alfonso as an infant
In young Maria Christina’s arms—
La Exposición Universal, ’88 or ’89.
No angels worshipped him. No shepherds sang
Before his mother-queen. Heaven did not accommodate
Royalty, and neither did you. But Heaven did once hail
Your language and people with a singing sea
And a harmonic wind as Doctor Llobera read his Homer.
Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus!
The living wind exhales from the sea and lures you from piety
To shifting shapes of sunlight on whitewashed buildings.
Shadows in alleys, crepuscular shades.
Daylight mates with dusk in a crooked lane.
Decadence sets in, you think, as soon as man
Forgets to look at nature.
So come, little sun! Come visit me!
Rosita, your niece, would walk with you
Nights in Parc Güell. Her breath stank of
Agua del Carmen—the cheap drink
That incubated her father’s disease in her.
You couldn’t help her. You could not rescue
Her infected mind, her poisoned flesh.
You could have more easily shaped
Montserrat’s saw-toothed peaks into smooth slopes
Or ground the mountain to dust with a god-like command.
Yet you walk and wonder at what failed—
At what you failed to do.
Humility, sister of poverty.
Divinity, sister of crucified flesh.
Elegance, sister of old stones,
Piles of sand in a mountain monastery.
O life of ruins and lost causes!
Have you ever seen a pile of human skulls?
They look alike. Flaky plaster, brick dust.
Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.
Six o’clock. Corts Catalanes.
Halfway to Saint Philippe Néri.
Ricardo greets you from his news kiosk,
Same as always. Your Maker awaits you
In secret, in Padre Mas’s flesh, eager to forgive.
Precision, you implore yourself: how have you sinned today?
A cross word to the masons, an impure glance
At your deputy’s wife when she brought his lunch?
Or do you still hate your bourgeois patrons,
The bankers, industrialists, city leaders,
Well-fed bishops from years past, all
Who made you fat and famous—
The architects of this material nightmare with their
Cuban slaves and imported palms?
Have you learned to love and forgive those
Who forced your retreat into mystery—
The beggar’s clothes, the diet of nuts and seeds,
The temple built with found objects and the people’s alms,
The Gospel that begins with a lethal birth?
As you cross the grand boulevard, a modern street car
Snakes through town, whispering an old serpentine tune.
You feel no need to stop.
These streets belong to you.
Postscript: On June 7, 1926, the Catalan modernist Antoni Gaudi – known as “God’s Architect – was hit by a street car while walking to the Sagrada Familia, his magnum opus. Three days later he died at the age of 74. Construction of the Sagrada Familia is still not finished.