A meeting in Barcelona
For Louis Johnson (1924 – 1988)
I glimpsed your ghost today, disguised as a tourist,
visiting Picasso’s favourite brothel. The one
where he painted those cubist nudes
with their stranglers’ hands and fetishist faces.
Ugly molls, but vibrant … a blatant warning
that the Muse is no passive painted lady.
It was no surprise, seeing you stroll
alone down the Ramblas. (You’ve
often managed to find your way back.)
But that velvet cape! That cane and white hat!
An actor’s garb, not something you donned
back in Wellington in ’59
with your one patched suit and worn-out shoes
and that Man Alone poetic stance
that few of us paranoid cold-war lot
ever fully shake off.
you wandered harbourwards
to where Columbus on his pillar of smog
was also part of some surrealist plot,
being covered in bird-crap, minus a foot,
and steering his stone boat inland. Always
the joker you paused to point out
that every voyage is a game of chance.
A crowd of gypsies robbed me blind
behind the cathedral. Such professionals!
I didn’t feel a thing. But I gawped
like a dork as you disappeared
and my lucky heather went limp. Is
that why you laughed like a mad privateer …
Captain Hook, Cook, or Blood,
from those Saturday flicks
that brightened up the drab post-war years?
The least I could do was to wave you off
as you caught the last boat back. The one
that leaves at sunset with its skeleton crew,
its black Madonna and drunken band.
Your loud cry of companionship
was clearly heard above those beating drums.