Slate Lands

Images of the Priorat

August Bover


          Mountains darkened
          by the purple explosion
          of autumn’s leaves.

          Yosa Buson (1716–1783)

From the break of dawn
between cellar and vineyard
all the day gone long.
Like donkeys of bygone times,
the tractors don’t halt to rest.

If once forsaken
by a drought never-ending,
farmers now worry
dismayed by heavy rain clouds
that threaten the year’s bounty.

From slopes descending,
young harvesters are singing,
as they glean and reap.
Making bushels and baskets,
appears to be no burden.

Ripened fruit
under a buzzing of bees
An entire town embalmed
by the must’s endless dripping.

Yellow and scarlet,
after the harvest of grapes
but before their fall,
leaves so flaunt their finery
with vivid party colors.

Night settles in,
whilst the farms are slumbering
and the moon, alone,
rising over the hillocks,
glides among the terraced vines . . .


          Still standing and sure
          the monastery’s archways
          in December’s chill.
          Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902)

On terraces sleep
the dormant vines, fog-covered,
on every branch
of almond and olive trees
a frost blossom in flower.

Inside the cabin,
a refuge from the harsh wind:
a fire of vineshoots,
no more than four hazelnuts,
perhaps a glass of red wine . . .

Patches of grass now
where Carthusian cells once stood
within the cloister.
And some say, on certain nights,
you can still hear monks singing.

Snow in the mountains
and the vineyards stripped bare:
season of numbed hands,
of wine in casks and cellars
and oil in stone containers.

Savoring grenache
seated around the home fire,
old men reminisce:
Carlist wars and phlox plague,
the pressings of harvests past.

Almond flowers
like white butterflies, keep watch
over the vineyard.
Upon a slate riverbed,
the stream begins its dancing.


         Each new flower
         that blooms on
         the plum tree announces better weather.

         Hattori Ransetsu (1654–1707)

Oh holy mountain,
for devotion and prayer
the hermit’s sanctum:
an icon for reflection,
and flowers, inside the cave.

A thousand and one
times you repeated your steps,
your goal to align
all the parallel columns
of newly rooted seedlings.

We follow along
the paths of oaks and heroes,
chasing our freedom.
Thyme flowering underfoot,
rise up to perfume our steps!

You pluck and gather
among bushes and bramble,
your sack brimming with
the heavy scents of woodlands,
and of medicinal herbs.

The chirping of birds,
throughout the passes and cliffs,
abruptly silent.
There above the mountaintop,
eagles soar among the skies.

The sun arises
spreading over the yellow
scream of the Scotch broom.
Like one who takes no chances,
The tortoise peeks from his den.



          When all is silent
          the cry of the cicadas
          pierces even stone.

          Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694)

Benevolent clouds
shower an afternoon rain
over arid land.
A perfume hangs in the air,
of grapevines freshly moistened.

A large pine tree shades
the shepherd dreaming about
a host of angels:
coming and going up and
down the heavenly ladder.

Backs doubled over,
farmers continue to keep
traditional ways,
constructing walls of dry stone
or pruning the vine’s offshoots . . .

On the sunny slope,
towers of leaves flourish,
lush and radiant.
Under the green canopy
a cluster of ripened grapes.

A moonless evening.
Hidden within the woodlands,
at the vineyard’s edge
wild boars savor the fragrance
of ambrosial grape thickets . . .

Oakwood and silence,
an alchemical secret,
the bold daring in
a taste of mellow wisdom
in each new and deep union.



         *      *      * 

The combination
of age, colors, aromas,
the effort, the soil,
the risk and the discretion . . .
in the wineglass: life itself.

translated from the Catalan by Kristine Doll