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Mark McDonnell 08-18-2019 05:09 AM


Panic-drenched and dreamlike, we emerge
from metro steps to a blast of cars and heat —
my wallet gone. A dip on a crowded train.
Then stumbling minutes searching blind, a street
of tapas bars and noise for phone connection
to cancel cards. To wipe it all away.

The Nativity facade soars far above us —
it crawls and melts and blossoms like a brain.
Like Gaudi's, as he crossed his final line —
or mine, grasping at wi-fi to make the call.
And all, save fifty euros, turns out fine.

And money comes and goes. I know the pang
of useless tourist guilt, however mild,
at every crouching beggar, at each good meal —
I tell myself the notes might feed a child.

Still, I'm quiet the next day — fitting in
with seaside plans and the twins' excited cries,
but distant, picking at the thing. Something.
Perhaps my own grand project undermined,
my own facade — protector — wavering.
And shame, I think, at being the stooge, the mark —
my lack of guile somebody's easy score.

In death as life — distracted, rapt, alone.
The tram hit. Gaudi lay for hours, ignored,
mistaken for a beggar. O mi familia
lo siento! Dad! they shake me. Mark!
my wife. Forget it now, come eat paella.
Ah, bless them, my sagrada living stone —
unfinished — how they lead me through the dark.

S5L5: 'Cheer up' —> 'Forget it now'

S4L1-4 was

Still, I'm quiet the next day — fitting in
with seaside plans and the twins' excited cries,
but distant, brooding, picking at the thing.
Something. My own grand project undermined,

Changed details of L3 and 4

Roger Slater 08-18-2019 09:15 AM

You may have lost your wallet, but you gained a poem. And a fine enough poem that I think you have come out ahead. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

Erik Olson 08-18-2019 11:45 AM


I agree this poem is ample recompense for the stolen wallet. I have been to Barcelona, the capital of Gaudí and pickpocketing, and the deft imagery here evokes a distinct impression that strikes me as precise. I enjoy this very much. I have no nits as yet but register my approbation.


Duncan Gillies MacLaurin 08-18-2019 12:52 PM

The "mark" indeed. Great piece.


Martin Elster 08-18-2019 01:21 PM

Excellent, Mark! I enjoyed it.
Just to point out (and it's probably not something you care about), this line

my wife. Cheer up, come eat paella

is tetrameter.


Susan McLean 08-18-2019 01:56 PM

Hi, Mark,
I've lost my wallet twice to pickpockets, once in New York City, once in Krakow, so I can testify that that you are presenting a recognizable portrayal of the stages of emotion one goes through, though I think your introduction of Gaudi into the mix raises this above a mere slice of life. My one reservation is your inclusion of Spanish. It is a matter of taste, of course. For every reader who finds that the Spanish adds an additional layer, there may one or two who don't know Spanish and who feel shut out by words they can't follow. I usually hesitate before using a foreign language, unless the terms have been adopted into English or are pretty obvious in terms of what they would mean in English. But that decision is up to you.


Martin Elster 08-18-2019 02:46 PM

Since Susan mentioned the Spanish words, I confess that I did look up a few, which made things clearer.

Matt Q 08-18-2019 04:50 PM

Hi Mark,

I once thought I'd had my wallet stolen from my room. I'd left a window open to the street. I found it about month later, where it had fallen behind the CD rack. Not a great a story, but I'm feeling left out never having actually had my wallet stolen.

I find a fair bit to like in the poem. "shame ... at being ... the mark", made me smile. A takhalluss! Also the word play of "picking at the thing". I didn't understand the Spanish without looking it up. I also don't know much about Gaudi, but I don't think the poem requires much, . I see that there's a nativity -- a holy family, that comes back nicely at the close. I like the N's family as unfinished, living stone. Also on the family theme, there's also the N's role as family protector cast in doubt, and there's the family rescuing him from his mood, lifting his spirits. "The tram hit" seems to be doing double duty: Gaudi hit by a tram (I learn), and the hit on the N on a subway train. His stone family left unfinished (I presume). Gaudi left alone after the hit. The N not alone after his. It's well woven together.



Andrew Frisardi 08-18-2019 09:35 PM

I don't think "my lack of guile" fits. Guile is deceitful cunning, more what the pickpocket had. Day-dreaminess or lack of pragmatism is the victim of that.

I too am not sure about the point of the Spanish there, though I can understand it. I get it that the N is having fun using it while touring, but I'm not seeing how it adds to the poem.

And the brain simile earlier in the poem is problematic. I like it that the facade blossoms like a brain, but then it becomes a double simile ("Like Gaudi's," "like mine"), which strains a bit too much imo.

R. Nemo Hill 08-19-2019 08:51 AM

This is expert as narrative, Mark, the story developed as much by the telling as by the rhythmic shifts in the meter. I do like the Spanish, it seems integral to the tourist state, the traveler's attempts to fit in (it chimes with the title as well).

And I adore this little alter-ego portrait: distracted, rapt, alone.


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