I undertake the peregrinación
out of secular curiosity.
My companion, Teresa,
on the other hand is saintly.
I met her on the road to Santiago.
She is frail and her hair is a shiny silver.
She walks discalced,
suffering calluses and cuts smilingly.
Her face is mystical, belonging to a sublime world.
I walk beside her in my sturdy walking boots
on the road to Santiago.
She carries the pilgrim’s staff
and wears the scallop shell.
Of course it’s only a legend, I say,
this thing about Saint James
being carried on a shell.
It’s a matter of faith, she says.
You must believe things to be true
or the world is just a place of pain.
It was when the hermit Pelayo saw the great light…
And her own face lights up.
We must get there before July twenty fifth.
El día del santo.
El día de tu santo, Jaime.
Names are fortuitous things, I say
And this year, nineteen ninety nine,
she says ignoring me, is the año santo.
Todo santo, I say mocking her.
The pilgrimage grows tiresome and difficult.
But Teresa, she carries the smile
all through the long journey.
My feet are killing me, I say,
and I am sunburnt.
That is the problem with Spain, too much sun.
You must not complain, she says
and her feet are bleeding.
The peregrinación is like life.
We must keep going.
We will be judged on how well we travelled.
We arrive at the city of Santiago
on July twenty fifth.
We have made it, she shouts with joy,
prostrating herself on the cobbled square
in front of the cathedral,
delighting in the drizzle that has begun to fall.
A miracle, she says, trying to grasp the drops.
The miracle of the rain.
And I see the strange sight
– people in Spain walking around
under a black sky of umbrellas.
We enter the cathedral dwarfed
like ants under its enormity.
A ceremony is taking place.
raise the giant botafumeiro with ropes.
and cameras flash from the darkness.
That’s not religion, I say,
it’s just a spectacle,
and why do they need it so large?
To fumigate all the unclean, she says.
Does the size of church paraphernalia
enhance religious depth?
Be quiet, James, she whispers,
and wait and pray for the miracle.
What miracle? I say.
The rain has stopped,
someone whispers from the back.
She looks at me, no longer cheerful,
her face contorted, showing pain now
that was hidden all along,
and copious tears flow out of her eyes
as if she had gathered up
all the rain of Santiago.
She presses her pilgrim’s staff
and I see the skeleton of her hand.
Pray to Santiago, she says,
that he may cure me.
And I move closer to her in the pew
and we both kneel down.
(winner of the Scintilla Welsh Open Poetry Competition, 2002)