Home » Issues & Poems » Issue Eighteen » EUROZONE


Mercedes Cebrián

In the title poem of her 2006 collection Common Market (Long Poem Magazine 11), Mercedes Cebrián satirised the homogenising idealistic democratic capitalism of the European Union, with its dissolving of borders: ‘at last I’m living the hotel life.//I’m in a meeting and, now that I am,/pain is irrelevant.’ but also remarked ‘our present reality/is dislocation’. Certainly she believed that that ‘reality’ had more positive than negative aspects, and she ended her sequence with a foreboding prayer: ‘Let us pray/for our countries, that they aspire/always to higher/things, that their sputum/never looks like blood.’ Ten years pass, and in a sequence in her new book Malgastar/Squandering (an El País Book of the Year) she returns to the Eurozone, as the E.U. lurches into ever choppier waters. The central poem of the sequence, Brexit, is an Anglophile’s lament at an old friend’s new coldness. Vienna or Milan conjures up a possible future dissolution of the union, as chauvinism (and even a threat to democracy) raise their ugly heads among member states. Elsewhere she looks back to the old systems that democracy and a belief in justice for all seemed to have put an end to: colonialism and fascist dictatorship, and reminds us there were people who these systems suited very well. Mercedes Cebrián treats these grave matters fluently, obliquely and with an omnipresent mordant irony, never more to the fore than when she borrows the persona of Mitterand’s discreet mistress, in Anne Pingeot Speaking. She is a unique voice in European poetry. Terence Dooley



translated from the Spanish by Terence Dooley


  • In the indicative mood


That stupid Karen Blixen

introduced us to

the imperfect tense: ‘I had

a farm in Africa’, or whatever

she possibly ran in Kenya, in those parts anyway.

In films and paperback books, Karen

Blixen informs us in her serene Danish accent

she was the proprietress of an African farm. If she says ‘I had’

that means she lost it. If it were it otherwise, she’d say

‘I have’. And I too have lost some of my colonies,

good growing land in a sunny climate they were.

When I was a mother country,

mangos and cherimoyas fruited on my trees.

If a place is a colony, you can’t call

things brought from there imported goods.

            My child, once

this papaya was ours and ours only.



  • Vienna or Milan. Winter probably.


After the last tram

stops running,

they don’t leave them out in the street;

they take them to sleep

in tram-sheds

so people out late

aren’t disturbed by them,

aren’t forced to contemplate

inoperative phenomena.


I don’t know why I get on a tram

two stops from the terminus:

What have I to gain?

Ten minutes, or a night

in a conveyance travelling

on inertia.


Here I sit in the tram-shed,


systoles and diastoles,

gazing at the trams

and remembering Neorealism.


The brainwave then is to revert to

our day-before-yesterday selves,

and save plastic bags

inside a bigger one where they fit.

Each has a use: they’re for putting things in,

of any kind, rubbish even, or household

pets, We celebrate survivals,

and that includes plastic bags.


The charcoal tweed coat

united Europe –

we turn up our collars

when the wind blows chill.

The turned-up collar

is the ugliest part of the coat.

Milan is an example:

crouching under

Italy’s lapel.


(But what’s the point

of climbing aboard Europe

if it’s only two stops

to the terminus?)


We’ll have to jump ship

to where there are still

tailors and drapers,

have to show up

every night at the opera  –


Since the last disastrous fire,

the opera-house

is wholly uninflammable.



  • Brexit


From the plane window I see where you begin.

Arrival is more vivid

in the case of islands; the sea ends,

and there you are. It’s that simple

from the height we’re flying at

as announced by the pilot.


Meanwhile, down there,

the count is taking place.


Finally (who’d have

believed it?) the day came

for the long divorce, though

there was traffic

and the traffic wasn’t one-way,

even if it was on the wrong side of the road.

It wasn’t a to-and-fro-ing, 

it was the difference

between mutual and reciprocal.


When we called each other you.

it turns out it was always ‘usted*’.


Let’s keep on talking about

the grey skies

hanging over you. And about

the gaps in your teeth too,

the bicuspids,

always the first to go.


Were it relevant, I’d recant on oath

what we said about your weather.                       


You saw me live and stumble in your tongue;

you comforted me

much as an electric blanket comforts. (In exchange,

Spain traded you its summer.) Please tell me now

what to do with my adaptors, comedy series,,



England, you’ll be the one strung-up

if you can’t lay your hands on a hangman.



*the formal you, not the familiar ‘tu’



  • Anne Pingeot speaking


All that glisters isn’t good: we don’t want

shiny patches on our trousers. This is why

it was best that Mazarine and I

didn’t shine. Our postal code

is of no possible interest to anyone.

If we were the scaffolding or the house

shrouded in scaffolding, others decided for us.

It’s not who I was, it’s who I was

for him.


Le Président de la République spent his nights

with us. And France was ungoverned from

midnight till just after seven. Franҫois’s gift to us

was time, with no fancy wrapping.

When he hung up his coat in the hall,

he handed to us his hours, minutes

and seconds; he wasn’t our prisoner: if France called,

he left at once. When was he at his best? When

was he most himself? Random questions

for either of us to answer. They rained down on us

like pebbles thrown by children.


Daylight now is quite unlike

that of the old days.

During the funeral, the new life beginning

and the old life ending wore the same clothes.

We had crossed the street and not noticed:

we emerged in a dazzle we never dreamt of.


Because my flat on Quai Branly was a school

for secrets. Desks, chalk-board,

crucifix and soup-tureen: the table laid

for a dinner when no word

would pass our lips. It’s in the worst

possible taste to attempt conversation

with your mouth full of filet mignon.

Picture a dinner with Mitterand, cheese and salad

to follow the main: à la franҫaise:

We’re in France here: behold the white

moulded ceiling. Behold the chaise longue.

Well of course we dined off the best china

though there was no-one to see.


Then there’s the photo that circled the globe:

            my face apparently riddled with

the black pox, in fact it was

my black lace veil.

Mazarine, 22, in a grey coat.

The right clothes for accompanying

the dead.

Caroline of Monaco wore a mantilla

to hide her tears when Prince Rainier died.

Mourning is our sisterhood

with women of the South.

To weep for our man

is international.


            (v)       Somebody missing


What she saw and how, and who gave her

those thick convex lenses, to look that way,

and not another way. It happened after

and because of, the fratricidal war

our country is so famous for.

So many photographs of the carnage,

and of its aftermath, so many boys and girls

with gaps in their teeth, so many chronically             

dirty shoes.


She lived through the greyest years, but she liked

the grey she lived through.

The chink of the night-watchman’s keys

made her feel safe in the metropolis

of the withered espadrille.

And then she passed it on, she passed on

the way I walk everyone laughs at. So she was

source, product, sequel, and all this

whirled round between her selves.


Some of her necklaces could have been

worn by Doña Carmen Polo.

Others were copies of Tita Thyssen’s.*

She went to China: she didn’t like

how the Chinese spat in the street.

But she really liked the fjords, though lager

in Bergen is so dear. She was lucky:

she kept her front teeth; only lost a few molars.

She made sure no-one noticed. Her cholesterol

levels: fine. She ate lamb or prawn

fritters whenever she fancied, almost

to the very end. (That could be any

Spaniard’s epitaph.)



Note: Carmen Polo was Franco’s wife,  and Tita Thyssen the socialite and philanthropist (as in the Madrid art-gallery that bears her name).

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