Image by John Lesnie

Poem introduction

from The Tourist in Seat 29

Below the Sierra

Below the Sierra

The brown tower broken on the cliff,
The shining black hoof of the goat,
The hillside terraced with random stone
Where hoarded water feeds the olive,
A shepherd in a ragged coat
On the harsh skyline stands alone.

An old church and two crooked streets,
A guesthouse solid as a farm,
A whitewashed room floored with blue tile,
Red blankets and coarse sundried sheets
And the cool darkness lying calm
Outside the window, mile on mile.

The tattered piper stands and blows
A kind of fanfare or salute
Upon his pipe of polished cane;
Then, changing key, the music flows
Like water from that pastoral flute
Through sleepy valleys of the brain.

Above the shadow of the hills
Iberian stars are mildly bright,
The new moon lifts out of a cloud,
And the long hollow valley fills
With milk of phosphorescent light
And the piper’s music sweet and loud.

The agile melancholy tune
Winds and unwinds its varying stream
Inside and outside of the mind.
The sense dissolves. Somewhere the moon
Is slowly sinking in a dream
Where travellers set out to find

Some antique scene of living rock,
Of horsemen tall on the hillside,
Of armoured ghosts upon the march
And gods in trees. The minstrel cock
Strikes up; galactic darkness rides
Under the sky’s triumphal arch.


‘Below the Sierra’, from Inscription on a Paper Dart: Selected Poems 1945-1972 (Auckland University Press; Oxford University Press, 1974), © M K Joseph 1974, used by permission of Charles Joseph for the Joseph Family Trust. Recording from the Waiata New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 1974.

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