Two Poems From Spain

Four learned saints, and the Romans' favourite sauce

Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Ruins of a garum factory in Baelio Claudio, Spain (FalconAumanni CC BY-SA 3.0)


A fishy sauce from ancient Roman days,
expensive stuff, the Roman caviar.

Professor Javier García del Toro
brought garum to a demo I was at.
A taste that took us back to ancient times.
Traded, packed in amphorae from this port.
Some spots still have a little masonry
from where these fish were farmed, just off the shore,
tuna and mackerel of various types.
Salt from the local flats, herbs from the hills
and fermentation in the baking sun:
a process that went on for many months.
Justly expensive for the skill involved.
Free to us demonstrators, a reward
for keeping faith with ancient history
The Lares and Penates make a pact
with those of us who stand up to defend
these hills, these walls, from the barbarians,
not Goths or Vandals but construction firms.

Tupperware filled with garum to the top
and Mercadona crackers alongside.
Some demonstrators didn’t fancy it.
I sidled up and tasted seconds and thirds.
Garum is not for squeamish modern tastes.
Some entrails are involved in making it.
I love this stuff. I’ve stifled squeamishness,
a weakness not a virtue in my eyes.
I secretly despise all those who say
they won’t touch offal, or avoid most fish
unless it’s crumbed and frozen, or in cans.

The Fifth Saint

Four learned saints. Three bishops and the head
of fifty nunneries. Sometimes they’re called
Four rivers running out of Paradise.
Isidore, with his Etymologies
became the patron saint of internet.
We see their portraits in the local church.

Their names are marked with batteries around the port,
part of the coastline’s system of defence.
In the Sierra, each has their own mine.
Small images grace corners in the streets.
A house rumoured to be from Roman days,
close to the castle in the city’s heart
stood many centuries. Eventually,
it was demolished for a theatre.
Even their father, Duke Severian,
gets his own street, the Cuatro Santos, too.
We never hear of Theodosia,
their sister saint. She gets no images,
no battery, no streets named after her.
The mine that bore her name’s not on the map.
Nothing is sacred to her memory.
What was her crime? Her lack of celibacy
when singleness was part of saintliness?
Her husband, Visigothic royalty,
was of the Arian heresy and killed
their child when he would not convert to it.
And thus, their son, Hermenegild, becomes
another saint, a martyred one this time.
A ghastly tale, bad as Greek tragedy.
Not something that we like to dwell upon.
Is this why Theodosia’s ignored?

The learned saints all lived to make old bones,
no tragedies, no martyrdom for them.
The four all get their place in local lore
while Theodosia’s simply written out.

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"