Flor stood up at the podium where the Gospel is usually proclaimed. She laid her papers straight, cleared her throat, and launched into her reading full-speed.
The words flew from her mouth and over our heads. They winged out the church door and circled the tower. She read fast, and with well-rehearsed gestures and stresses in her voice.
What she read this evening, before her relatives and neighbors, was a poem she wrote herself, a poem about a nest of storks. She proclaimed it with pride as well as some nervousness. It was a very good poem, and it earned her a noisy round of applause.
And after her came Toni, her sister-in-law, with her poem about the dignity of Spanish womanhood. A striking young cousin emerged from the sacristy halfway through, decked in a red dotted Flamenco dress, fluttering a lacy fan – a living illustration.
José was up next. His poem was a free verse, a song of sad longing, of nights spent in a silent town wondering if this was what he will always do. He read with dignity of things many men would never speak of aloud.
Then came Sara, whose lively youth burbled out in a quick, sweet ode to something pretty.
The heavy artillery rolled out last. Modesto, the 80-something resident historian and poet, writes and recites poems for at all of Moratinos´great events. Tonight he shared no less than four Tributes in Rhyming Couplets, ranging in subjects from A Mother´s Love to The Useful Pig.
His sons sat smiling in the front row. At the end of the pork poem came a flurry of hands motioning in Modesto´s direction, fingers making slicing motions against necks, chopping motions against wrists. Modesto smiled pityingly at them and gathered up his sheaf of rhymes.
It was Moratinos´ First Poetry Reading, part of the annual Fiesta weekend. It lasted only 20 minutes, but it played to a packed house of appreciative listeners. All of the poems were written by the people who read them. And none of them was bad. Not at all.
We live, after all, in rural Castile, a place with a long history of poets and poetry. They teach it in school, and students that show promise are further fostered with lessons on how to read in public.
We have a pool of talent in our midst, apparently untapped. Until now. Here we have a housewife watching a leggy bird and her brood, seeing how the two of them, woman and stork, do the same sorts of chores each day.
Here´s a lonely farmer. A teenager blossoming, aware of her blossoming. A Spanish woman, a carpenter´s wife, celebrating herself and her sisters and her nation. And a patriarch, holding forth the way respectable old men in little rural towns are wont to do.
There were no prizes, because that would require judges, and judgements. At the end everyone filed out and patted one another on the back and bought each other beers at the bar. We stayed just a little while, watching the big card-playing tournament (the prizes there are hams and pork loins, cheeses and bottles of wine) then headed back toward home and dinner.
Up the street beyond the albergue, Julia sat chatting on the curb with Oliva and Justi and one of their grown-up daughters. Julia´s still mourning, she is taking a pass on all but the Mass for this year´s fiesta – but she still loves a good visit. I sat down and told them what they´d missed. And Oliva was inspired.
When she was small, she said, every Sunday in May she´d stand up before the Virgin statue and recite elaborate poems of praise. “Offerings,” she called them, taught to the children at school and at home. And now, 60 years later, Oliva still has them filed comfortably in her vast memory.
“O holy mother mine,
O flower of Judah, O star of the Sea,
When I am sad, I always call to thee,
And you are there to comfort me,” she reeled off.
“You dry the tears of every child
A mother to all who call to you,
Eternal mother, robed in majestic blue
O hear our songs of gratitude...”
She knows three long Offerings like these, and Julia joined in for one about a Mystic Rose. Their voices made a sing-song as Pilar´s troupe of pretty grandchildren toddled and wheeled past, on their way to the plaza to play boules. Justi stood by, watching the recital. He smiled as Oliva spoke, his craggy brown face full of tenderness.
We have always had plenty of poetry here, what with storks on the roof, and crickets singing in the fields, and thunder grumbling off to the west.
And we have poets here, too, listening and writing that poetry into words. And ladies perched on the curb, pulling forth poems they first recited when their voices were young and clear and sweet.
Imagine, a little town full of poets, offering it up. Because we all are here, and because we all want to hear.