Home » Issues & Poems » Issue Eleven » Common Market

Common Market

Mercedes Cebrián

Common Market (2006), of which this is the title poem, was my first book of poems. Before that I had published Affordable Angst, a new kind of book which interleaved stories and poems, and was chosen by the distinguished critic, Ignacio Echevarria, as one of the essential books published in Spanish since 1950. I thought of myself then as principally a story-teller. Perhaps I still do. For me, writing poetry was like speaking on the radio without having been told how long I was expected to speak. I was improvising in terms of lineation, rhythm and stanza. I didn’t know when a poem was finished. I knew I had a good ear, from my musical training, and from my fascinated study of poets like Ashbery, Olds, César Vallejo, and Susana Thénon. But there was also a reality out there I needed to talk about, a reality I only partly understood, and therefore had to explore: New Spain: how my country had become, almost overnight, a reasonably wealthy country, a respected member of the E.U. I was also impelled to think and write about my generation, who had only known democracy, but whose parents had lived under Franco’s dictatorship. Reading now this long poem that opens Common Market translated into English is a real miracle for me, for I still don’t believe how Terence Dooley was able to transport – that was the definition of the verb “to translate” in Latin – all the linguistic challenges and the Spanish local flavour present in it into English.

Common Market

Mercedes Cebrián translated by Terence Dooley



Here are the adults

of the European Union

and here too their sleight

of hand in dropping

all the other adults from their lives-

luckily they have

each in their own

wardrobe a mackintosh

navy or taupe.


If I can tuck myself into

this hideaway, no E.U.

directive will reach me there.

Nor any project. In my briefcase

is my own, which I shan’t undertake.

I only wish to demonstrate to you

its death, embossed into the pulp

of its handmade paper.


There’s an immense recycling-centre

for projects, just down the road.

I would ask you all not to junk

your plastic files, and there’s something else

you can do for me: don’t leave each other

carelessly behind on airport carpets.

 All the unsavoury gossip is in the saccharine-packet

for this decaf. We haven’t time for it

either I start running      now

or I’ll miss forever my connecting flight.


My shoes are no longer honoured, my soles

interest no-one and yet

I feel lucky

all at once a mini-bar slap in the middle of my room

all at once miniature spirits:


at last I’m living the hotel life.


I’m in a meeting and now that I am

pain is irrelevant. The First

Epistle of Saint Paul

to the Corinthians


Love rejoices in the truth, love suffers long


does not apply here: we are finalizing

a deal. It’s fragile and may

catch cold. It opens its eyes and can’t see us yet.

Once more we are muddling

work with very thin slices

not of bacon, but of speed:

sometimes it happens

that I’m masticating trout

and it’s a workaday

trout, and a noble one. Or it happens

that the crème caramel

makes a remark about the export market.


there’s a mackintosh

navy or taupe

in every wardrobe and I’ve managed to find

a slightly soiled

suit for the occasion.


In a board-room there’s no need

to raise one’s voice. Into the microphone

I’d say to you:


Look after your laptops

and water the screens of your rhododendrons


Since, obviously,

very soon the franchises

of this reality

will be opening their doors.




Because there was an ocean migration followed.

The means were mail and boats.

The elements, water, ink,

and very thin paper. You had to lick the stamp.

The people in the photographs

ill-favoured. There was the need to eat,

but time left over for the crossings.

One crossing each; you could map

their zigzagging routes.

They left work, they stopped using

verbs of motion,  and took up adjectivity

and then, at that moment, their lives

opened up, fast-forwarded, like

flowers in a film; news spread

and took on meaning, as it does today

from electricity and from the air.


Flags were memorized, vowels

lengthened, voices learnt

a new tonality. The floor

was danceable. Meanwhile

we were grateful to

Edison, Marconi, Graham Bell

for their inventions. Cables

and whatever isn’t a cable.


Moments still meet

on the map. People and objects

enter stage right

(I recognise a few

by their glimmer),

they share suitcases,

things are, in a way,

unchanged: ‘shroud’

still starts with a whisht.

The hand still travels down

the body –

thank goodness the crossing

is less onerous.


have much to do with this.




We flex our elbow daily

and are not untroubled by

its being a hinge,

its linking arm to forearm.

just as the knee

articulates, facilitates

linkage, though only

in one direction; the link

may fail,

someone is always

left out,

as in a lottery, as if

we spoke round a table

with too few olives on

for the number of guests.


The link isn’t forged

by means of hoarse cries, that would be

a link for the deaf-mute; rather

the blood-link is quite silent:

it offers a lodging-place, my mattress

and yours too, at no charge.


If you’re cold tonight,

remember to tuck up snugly

with your own DNA sugars.


That is how genetics work: when war

breaks out I’ll make space in my wardrobe

for all of you with your inexplicable

garments. You won’t have to fetch

water from the well. There’ll be


My light

was yours already

before the advent of rheumatism

and the invention of rheumatology.

The joints aren’t wasted yet, they creak,

they’re painful, they lock.

This is how they suffer

for their linkage.




Idealization has come to pass;

the alien name irradiates

and now all we possess

is far smaller than the chance

of flourishing it in conversation.


My city’s name is immutable,

Madrid in every tongue

(how different it would be

if I said Aachen

and others Aix-la-Chapelle –

less pertinent, I think, a lesser sense

of belonging).


Yes I know other passports exist.

Of course I’m au fait with

building-methods in earthquake-

zones. But it’s getting late:

I’ve asked for a key to the city,

to the podium

now it’s become a Holy Place,

where once its name was mud,

and even if that is

a consolation,


official beauty

has no merit or ministry. Rather

let’s cling to the tranquillity


of a stork’s nest with a stork in it.

Let’s hatefully hunt down

the bell-tower that cast out

our generation.


The lights are going on in the other

cities. Here it’s a gradual black-out,

gradual and sudden. The Christmas

Lights are not to blame: rather

they augment, furnish, settle accounts.

On the other hand, our forefathers

are to blame

for their cells and for their surnames.

All we can do is persist

on the flimsy flow-chart of their silver

hair. Perhaps if they moved

closer to the light.




Here nothing is founded, at most

an old light-bulb is swapped for one

just as lightless, boots are polished,

uncomplicated ones, black,

with no laces.

The umbrella I carry

has to be a folding one

not to stray too far from its apex.

I equidist, I seem to calibrate it,

to weigh up its diameter,

and it isn’t so: the measurements were fixed

a long time ago, by other people.

Feet have stopped growing.

I won’t say any more now

about feet and umbrellas.


Atoms are coming to be, in your houses;

the whole of the air

is domed by your illegible

signatures. I know that there are people

daily dependent on

your dimensions, who live on the warmth

you leave in your clothes, and this is why I feign

to be working in the constituency

of a diaphanous party. All are windows

from which I observe you, from which

I am thankful for

zip-fasteners (laces

scare me). Now you see why

I only half dance.


Here no-one is being born, we never

understood how so exact a verb

made its way in the world. We knew

no-one has uttered the words

‘I am being born’. Please provide us

with a record of a neonate’s

first cries. We ask you this

as we see you are skilled

in defibrillation, in mouth-to-mouth

resuscitation, in hopeful projects

like composing cradle-songs.




Let’s stay in town, at least. The ice

is transitive here.

It turns one to ice.

Ice and hail

of the same substance as rain and snow.


We grow old here, we celebrate

cytologies. We seduce

with gloves on even though

the intense cold

destroys germs.

Sandals are sold

hand over fist

in the shoe-shops, women’s

feet fascinate.


Northern cities need

a pitched roof; elsewhere

it’s a prayer

for snow that won’t fall.

Here, snow

makes access difficult,


the sky with the street

and with the dwellings,

human laughter

with flyovers, bridges.


All that is not urban

confines us. What occurs

in the neighbourhood of highways

is always pernicious. I refer

to the neighbourhoods of olden days,

when the roads

were deep in mud.


 (We are strangers now to mud.

So we can’t account for mud.)

We take refuge

indoors: once more

x-rays adorn

our dining-room walls.

Our present reality

is dislocation, the inflamed

ankle, the femur-head.

Something living

filters through it all.




Install; redecorate;  nail

to the wall, the floor, the false


You chose and ordered the furniture,

you can’t complain.

On these tiles will I raise

my church.


Consider the arrangement

of bunk beds in the children’s room.

Weep for the bed-head

firmly fixed to the wall. Blame

the Persian blinds. How did you feel

once you’d made up your mind?

Someone has keys

to the portable life.


Flight is always

a possibility, but don’t forget wood

and the antidote to wood, the verbs employed

in the whole process.

The tools will only be

half-visible, much as, or even more

than when we started

Nothing is more dangerous than

an arrow with no head.


Dad’s chair is who gives meaning to

all this, the water-tank and permanence.

Long life to daddy’s armchair even though

its springs are gone and though

nobody sits there –

the priesthood of women

is careless of the warp

of its upholstery.


Whereas the children who sit

on a floating floor, will feel the cold

in their kidneys


(The sedentary life, they’ll call it.)


This is not my place, at least my neighbours

tighten their sphincters. I’m off,

with them and after them, I’m off

towards the muscles. They’ve taught us

everything, the muscles.


Look, if I open my mouth you’ll see within

an hotel: the bed is still

unmade. Soon they’ll change

my under-sheet. I’ve just had some vast

and horizontal news: a new IKEA has opened

in Jerusalem.




Let us pray for European Baroque (would its co-owners

please raise their hands), let us pray

for our passports so clearly superior to yours.

Let us pray for the good, that it become

better still. I was taught that the good

is somewhere up there, and the bad

lower down. Vienna higher than

another place, for example. I know at least six

more terrible facts than this. They all curve

downwards, towards what supersedes



look, that little group of old men have lived through

the Normandy Landings


Here we are safe, in our country

fugue is not headlong flight,

but only a musical form.


When it strikes up we’ll take refuge

within a philharmonic orchestra.

And then we’ll pray for Salzburg,

for Classicism, for the little

Mozart house, his tiny bed and the harpsichord

on which he composed the kleine



Everything is frighteningly

well-tuned here. Almost all of us

are excellent cellists, our requiem masses

are dizzying.

Would the owners of Jean-Philippe Rameau

the title-holders to Corelli

the heirs of Bach

please raise their hands.


Now Germany is so polite to us


Let us pray for something Swedish

or Norwegian to happen to us, something

to stand up squarely and give birth

to a second voice.

As with meat, we need to know

the provenance of sound. Let us pray

for our countries, that they aspire

always to higher

things, that their sputum

never looks like blood.

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