Cartagena Poems

A sequence.


La Catedral

Those who would worship there often regret
this ancient space is never quite restored.
There’s only access when a concert’s on.
Its saintly bones are packed and stored elsewhere.

The gentlest chamber music fits this place
but rock and roll may be a little much,
excessive for a small and holy space.

Much damaged by fire during the Civil War.
The moderner church of Caridad was saved
by prostitutes and mayor blocking the doors,
refusing entry to the soldiers there.
A shame they couldn’t also hold this one.

For years, a homeless man slept in these walls,
his mattress lying at the foot of Christ.
Some jokers called him the cathedral’s Dean.
“Paco the Turnip” had strange memories
of chests containing burial remains.

A very ancient church, perhaps Spain’s first
may lie beneath this mix of different styles
ranging from Romanesque to Art Nouveau.
The passage linking to the theatre
put paid to excavating properly.

The open old cathedral down the road
has a less special feel. It’s ordinary
and saints like tailors’ dummies line its walls.

La Grúa Sanson

A giant’s Meccano set, a curving crane,
steel, nuts and bolts, thirty-five metres high.
A relic from the port, it floated once.
Its power could lift a hundred tons with ease
shifting huge guns to lorries from the docks.
They toiled up winding roads to batteries
to lodge these weapons on the mountain side.

Sixty-four years to its retirement role,
parked useless on a roundabout, at night,
surrounded by a group of working girls.
Delilah mocking Samson in his strength.

Batería de los Dolores

A grove of oleanders leads to it.
Its life was short. After the Civil War
it was disarmed and left to fall to bits,
dozens of bunkers, tunnels, esplanades,
clogged up with rubble, fallen masonry.
Its population’s solely rabbits now,
appearing out of holes they never dug.
Some kestrels lurk nearby observing them.
The Civil War of nature never stops.


Huge Vickers guns not molten lead aloft
bely the quasi ancient ambience.
It’s twentieth century mediaeval style,
turreted, castellated, with great views.
It’s all as pretty as Port Meirion.
Who’d think this place was really meant for war?

Each battery has its own special style.
There’s something other than the functional
that makes the engineers that built them all
turn to their story books for reference:
Egyptian, Greek or Mayan . . . Take your pick.

Castillo de Atalaya

Just as I’ve always bled in Marathon
I felt strange vibes whenever I climbed here.
An allergy temporarily blinded me.
At other times tiredness sapped my strength.
After the Cantonal War this spot was called
Castillo de la Muerte, Castle of Death.
Betrayal came from here, the end of hope.
The dream of Independence was shot down.

Below the top, a group of mobile masts
disfigure land that once contained a bridge.
A short climb from this spot reaches the walls
The second level’s rarely visited
Only a hidden entrance leads inside.
The castle’s fully occupied right now.
They’ve taken every room with sleeping bags.
No running water in the place, no lavs.
I can’t guess what goes on, don’t want to know.
One room is taken up with scrunched-up wipes.
A classy squat till someone turns them out.

Castillo de los Moros

The Duke of Berwick battered the town from here,
a hillside then, before these works were built.
An elongated E across the hill,
a double hornwork is the technical term.
It’s visible from many parts of town.

Drugs dens were run within the castle walls
until the police raided and closed them down.
These days a group of black Iberian pigs
scratch on the slopes where scraps of rubbish lie.
Kids joke a human body’s rotting there,
an urban legend of a nasty kind.

Slaves from the Arsenal buried their dead
and honoured them with services
inside a house planned specially for this,
built at the same time as the castle was.
A kind of mosque, the first one since the Moors
till others sprang up in the last decade.
I see no trace now. It has disappeared
beneath illegal builds beside the walls.


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"