Login   Sign Up 


Buying Tobacco in Spain

by James Graham 

Posted: 22 June 2003
Word Count: 135

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

She spoke no English, I no Spanish.
A pointless phrase or two, a frown, a shrug.
At last we gave up words and lifted off

in the simple, sumptuous grammar of the sign,
mime not quite worthy of Marceau perhaps,
but a warming intimacy of hands

and touching eyes. 'O.K.'
was the only word that passed,
and I said, 'Gracias'. And then

I gave the money - and suddenly those little
paper tokens with their codes and falderals
and etchings of grand buildings and great men

seemed to come between us. (It was partly
that I fumbled, dropped some, couldn't count.)
Very strange they seemed, stranger than language

(stranger even than breathing
hot smoke of shredded leaves).

At home we would exchange, oh,
things for things, or things for promises,

or, sometimes, songs for remedies.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

James Graham at 22:10 on 22 June 2003  Report this post
This is a new poem. It would be interesting to have your comments, criticisms, expressions of bemusement, etc. As there are companion poems to this, that are meant to complement it in various ways (and most of which are lying around in bits at the moment, not presentable yet) I probably need to explain the use of 'home'. 'Home', in this projected poem sequence, can be any of several imaginary 'places': a parallel universe, perhaps, in which Earth exists without most of the things I don't like in the world we know, e.g. money, capitalism, reality TV, racism, Coca-Cola, the monarchy, Lord of the Rings, etc. etc. Or the planet Hujusmodi - Latin for 'such a kind of' (world) - where equally these things don't exist, and whence some of my ancestors arrived on Earth many centuries ago, but were forced to stay because their spacecraft broke down. (We Hujusmodians are not complete outsiders; we've adapted quite well over many generations, but it still often strikes us that our hosts have some strange customs). Or maybe a world suggested by the slogan 'Another world is possible', adopted by the World Social Forum and other international grassroots movements. I don't actually believe in the first two of these. 'Home' is intended as a vehicle to allow me to look askance at some aspects of life on Earth, to see things with the eyes of a stranger. This is probably one of the least bizarre of the poems.


didau at 14:13 on 23 June 2003  Report this post
Until I read your commentary I saw nothing bizarre at all.

I like the structure of the three line stanzas that trail away into nothing like conversation becoming disjointed and meaningless. Maybe this could occr sooner - when money (capitalism) is introduced?

I like the idea that money isstranger than language and the Craig Raine like description of smoking "hot smoke/ shredded leaves" - this phrase with your explanation seemed to echoe 'A Martian Sends A Postcard Home'. Maybe Mars could be 'home' also.


Ellenna at 15:58 on 23 June 2003  Report this post
i also saw nothing bizarre, it seemed to me like two souls touching in the only way they knew how.. but then I am just a romantic at heart.... I think its wonderful!


Hilary Custance at 18:16 on 23 June 2003  Report this post
James, very interesting! I was completely and happily involved with the poetry, experiencing the moment and identifying with the sensual aspects of the meeting until I got to the line 'hot smoke of shredded leaves' . Being a non-smoker, and having temporarily forgotten the object of the transaction, I only got this on the second reading - that's fine, rich poetry needs to be taken in layers, and it feels good when another meaning floats out of the words on a second/third etc reading.

The 'at home' reference didn't gell with me until I had read your explanation. Now it seems obvious (you cannot undo knowledge). I think if this were part of a collection that knowledge would have been to hand at first reading.

I have recently returned from a fortnight of communicating across the language/cultural divide and have been aware, as so beautifully depicted in your poem, of giving extra attention to the whole demeanor of the other person and of using the entire body to reach understanding.

I'll worry about the greater pholosohy another time. I loved it at a very straightforward level. Cheers, Hilary

Ioannou at 20:55 on 25 June 2003  Report this post
When I first read it, the 'at home' part seemed to me to take the relationship between the two forward, to a later date, to a future between the two. Felt that '(stranger even than breathing
hot smoke of shredded leaves).' was forced - it seemed an unnecessary reinforcement of an idea well expressed earlier on more easily. Loved the 'oh, things for things, or things for promises.' Love, Maria.

llydstp at 12:49 on 26 June 2003  Report this post
I really enjoyed this - a clever poem created from an ordinary experience. Brilliant!
Particularly liked the use of the rarely used word 'falderals' and the reference to Marcel Marceau. Don't really understand 'songs for remedies'. Would you mind explaining this to an old thicko?

James Graham at 21:33 on 29 June 2003  Report this post
I'm pleased to see lots of responses to this poem. Thanks to all. No, there's really nothing bizarre about it, though possibly there are bizarre aspects to the 'home' idea that underlies it. Yes, David, Raine's Martian is one of my favourites, a tour de force. I wasn't thinking consciously about that poem when I was writing this, but there could well be an influence. Ellenna and Hilary, the 'two souls touching' and 'the sensual aspects of the meeting' were what mainly came out of the poem for you. I realise this could have made a poem in itself, without the 'home' bit and even without the bit about money - just a celebration of the language of gesture. That's the aspect that isn't a cross-reference to other (still only partly written) poems, and so of course it comes across better. Hilary, your puzzlement as a non-smoker was only temporary! Smoking is truly absurd - but, in this poem at least, less so than money. Maria, your take on the poem - that it seems to take the relationship forward - never occurred to me, but it's a very acute observation and I'm happy for this alternative meaning to 'float out of the words', as Hilary says. Finally, Steve - 'songs for remedies'. I imagine on the home world, or in the parallel universe, neighbouring people come along offering 'remedies', a solution to a current problem, or advice, or an offer to share experience, and accept an evening's entertainment by way of payment. It's an idyllic notion. The only earthly near-counterpart would perhaps be pre-colonial Africa - or other 'primitive' societies - at least in good times and in places where there was abundance. Again, thanks for all your comments, which seem to show that the poem has some life of its own.


peterxbrown at 01:39 on 16 August 2003  Report this post
The "home" construct is a great concept which acts like a canvas for layers of symbolic depth. The barriers created by bank notes is beautifully explored and spoils the couples intimacy. This is also,surely, a metaphor for procured sex! What a knockout line "or,sometimes, songs for remedies" is.

James Graham at 15:37 on 16 August 2003  Report this post
Thanks, peterxbrown, for your comments, which I greatly appreciate. It's just conceivably possible that the 'home' idea may produce a whole verse collection - eventually. A metaphor for procured sex didn't occur to me, but it's always interesting to find that someone else sees something in a poem that the author never knew was there. It's not in the least out of keeping with the poem, and it's gratifying to think the poem is capable of conjuring up additional meanings.


deblet at 13:22 on 04 July 2004  Report this post
Hi James

I really liked this poem, and the underlying idea that the ways we divide up and order our world - language, money, are things which ultimately divide us and detract from our oneness.

things for things or things for promises,
or sometimes, songs for promises

I instantly understood and felt moved by on what feels like a distant memory of other lives level in my bones.

I also warmed to the sensuality - the idea of a conversation without words between a man and a woman is, I suppose, a very romantic one.

I will have to read some more of your work and check out Craig Raine too

From a fellow Hujusmodian (or Cathar decendant my mum reckoned)

deblet x

Alegria at 21:52 on 25 May 2005  Report this post
I like this poem, it's simple and stately like one or two of your other poems I've read. "Hot smoke of shredded leaves" - love that, perhaps they could replace the standard "smoking gives you gonorrhea" messages of the day with this stark definition.

Your allusion to home, the more I think of it the more I get it (well my version of it). To me, it conjures how simple transactions should be in a world that made any kind of sense. So I like it a lot.


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .