Michel Galiana

Rookie (1933-1999 / France)

A Public Garden In Madrid - Poem by Michel Galiana

No grass. The ground is bare -either stone or gravel-
Strewn with empty bottles, litter, old newspapers.
Trees, deprived of foliage, with no shade but their trunks'.
Hard wooden benches and a few long stone ledges.
Further down the streets which edge the park on two sides,
And the mild radiance of the late winter sun.

On the benches lined up all along the park wall
Anonymous sleepers lie wrapped up in their coats.
No one could possibly guess their face or their age.

And close by, five men were engaged in playing cards.
Two of them wore caps and
All of them were retired.
A cardboard on their knees made their playing table.
The red cards, slowly raised, suddenly swooped down
Under joyful tumult of high pitched voices.

In front, an old couple chatted upon a bench-
What about? - and she wore a hazel brown coat,
He a light-coloured raincoat. Did they discuss
Their common married life
Or just the gossips in
The tabloid or else the last fùtbol match score?
Further on, other card players, less passionate,
Made up a much quieter party. From time to time
One of them would stand up
And address distant mates.

And still further away, women in dark attire
Like the ones depicted in obsolete novels
Dragged together their seats to arrange their meeting
And chattered and gossiped hard over their knitting
While, not far from their feet,
Two little girls in red erected frail castles
Made of the path gravel.

At the back of the yard
Bowls players moved about as in a pantomime:
I perceived their distant gestures wrapped in silence.
I'll add the dignified squire reading his paper,
The basker-in-the-sun
The big sheets consulting pointed-bearded student
And the popped-in stranger who anxious to disguise
His lack of composure, smoked a pipe while he leafed
Through a history book and mused over this poem.

The sun was mildly warm like in late winter time.
Silence smouldered under the steadfast town rumour.
The card players, couples, dreamers were at their games
And a horde of fluffy, ruffled balls called sparrows
Were scanning the garden intently, inch by inch,
While in the bottom of the sky
Time seemed eager to rest.

In that garden there was no grass, there were no flowers
Only trunks with no shade,
Benches of wood or stone.
And above all an urge to trust in happiness.

And I could not say why it came into my head,
That all these benches were in fact so many graves
That the people I saw in this park were all dead
And busy performing deathly pursuits;
And the scene that they would have to play before long
They had gathered for the sole purpose to rehearse
In the garden situated at the cross point
Of Bravo Murillo and Cea Bermudez streets.

17th March 1986


Nulle herbe. Le sol est nu -sable ou caillou-
Jonché de papiers, de journaux, de bouteilles vides.
Les arbres sans feuillage n'ont d'ombre que leur tronc.
Des bancs de bois dur et quelques banquettes de pierre.
En contre bas, la rue qui le borde de deux côtés,
Et le soleil tiède de l'hiver qui s'achève.

Sur des bancs placés le long du mur
Des dormeurs allongés enveloppés dans leurs manteaux
Ne laissent deviner ni leur visage, ni leur âge.

A côté, il y avait cinq joueurs de cartes.
Deux portaient une casquette
Et tous avaient atteint le port du repos.
Un carton posé sur leurs genoux servait de table.
Les cartes rouges s'élevaient, s'abattaient,
Et les voix sonnaient, hautes et joyeuses.

Devant, sur un banc, un vieux couple conversait.
Que se contaient-ils? Elle était vêtue d'un manteau marron,
Lui d'un imperméable couleur mastic.
Evoquaient-ils la vie menée à deux
Ou tout simplement les potins de la feuille de chou
Ou les résultats du dernier match de fùtbol?
Plus loin, d'autres joueurs de cartes, moins obstinés,
Formaient un groupe moins bruyant
Et de temps en temps, un d'eux se levait
Pour dire quelques mots à ses camarades.

Encore plus loin, des femmes en vêtements sombres,
Telles qu'on les peint dans des romans surannés,
Avaient traîné les bancs pour leur assemblée
Et bavardaient et cancanaient en tricotant
Tandis qu'à leurs pieds ou presque,
Deux petites filles en rouge faisaient des pâtés de sable
Avec le gravier.

Dans le fond du square
Des joueurs de boule s'agitaient à la façon de pantins
Car j'avais à la fois leurs gestes et leur silence.
Ajouterai-je le monsieur respectable lisant son journal,
Celui qui somnolait au soleil,
L'étudiant barbu qui compulsait de grandes feuilles
Ou l'étranger de passage qui pour se donner une contenance
Fumait sa pipe et feuilletait une revue d'histoire
Tout en méditant ce poème?

Le soleil était tiède comme à la fin de l'hiver.
Le silence était couvé par les rumeurs de la rue.
Les joueurs, les couples, les rêveurs poursuivaient leurs parties
Et toute une troupe de grosses boules de plumes baptisées moineaux
Explorait méthodiquement le square morceau par morceau
Tandis qu'au fond du ciel, le temps
Paraissait avoir décidé de se reposer.

Il n'y avait pas d'herbe dans ce square, ni de fleurs,
Seulement les troncs qui n'ombrageaient rien,
Des bancs de bois ou de pierre
Et surtout la volonté de croire au bonheur.

Et je ne sais pourquoi il me vint à l'esprit
Que ces bancs étaient déjà des tombeaux,
Que les occupants de ce square étaient des morts
Occupés à des activités de morts,
Et la scène qu'ils joueront dans quelque temps,
Ils venaient seulement la répéter
Dans ce square situé à l'angle
De la rue Bravo Murillo et de la rue Cea Bermudez.

17 mars 1986

Comments about A Public Garden In Madrid by Michel Galiana

  • Brian Jani (5/5/2014 2:52:00 PM)

    Interesting theme micheal.I'm a fan of your poems (Report) Reply

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  • (7/9/2006 3:09:00 AM)

    Well i love the detail and imagery and stanzas just as they are. I wouldn't chang e a thing! Should Poe have abbreviated the Raven? Sad, your brothers leaving, I'll bet he had a lot more to share. Such a great portrait he paints with words. His Art lives on. (Report) Reply

  • (4/21/2006 2:14:00 AM)

    Thank you, Poetry Hound, for your comment.

    To make things clear, the author of this poem is my brother who died in 1999.
    My work is limited to translating these texts originally written in French, so as to make them accessible to the larger Internet audience.
    That is the first reason why I don’t feel free to rearrange the distribution in stanzas adopted by the author, as you suggest it.

    The second reason is that a careful examination of the poem reveals a well thought out structure which it would be hazardous to upset or to destroy: a description of a public square that turns gradually into a macabre pantomime theatre.
    This transmutation does not begin with the final stanza; all stanzas hint at what is clearly proclaimed in the last one with the piled up words “graves”, “dead”, deathly”.
    The poignant effect is reached by the juxtaposition:
    of this slow and patient progression and this compact ending
    of the repeated vague allusions to a medieval “danse macabre” and the final crude unveiling, whereby a cat is called a cat and death is called by its name.

    These hints are among others:
    Absence of living elements in the landscape, only dead materials: stone, sand, paper, glass, wood, no foliage, no grass etc. evoking a stage setting.
    Artificial lighting (no shadows, pale cold sun)
    Theatre-like arrangement of audience (the faceless, ageless wraiths) and actors
    Light coloured costumes as suits phantoms, (with the exception of the little girls who nevertheless are engaged in a hopeless work in the very same way as the other characters)
    Actors symbolising and bearing the insignia of social classes according to the medieval tradition: caps, serious newspaper, etc..

    The succession of these descriptive and allusive elements before the final revelation is also remarkable:
    Stage setting, theatre boundaries, lighting, audience, loud card players, old couple, silent card players, knitting women and little girls, silent characters including the poet, lighting, silence, sparrows (perhaps living intruders in this dead world) , still standing time, stage setting again with mention of the illusion of happiness (the subject of the play) , revelation, theatre boundaries. A nearly cyclical listing which must be intentional and reminds of the ballads of old where the final stanzas repeat the introducing ones.
    (Report) Reply

  • (4/20/2006 8:50:00 AM)

    This poem has a huge amount of unnecessary and inconsequential descriptions. But the final stanza is poignant and fascinating. The poem would pack more of a punch if it were distilled into 2-3 stanzas. (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 20, 2006

Poem Edited: Saturday, May 13, 2006

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