Curse of the Pyrenees

Strung between two larger nations
and bearing a third on its spine,
this range hurts me like stitches.

Crossing by bus I get dizzy.
Not the heights but the history—
Benjamin killing himself,

eager Moors bracing themselves
against the bulk of Christendom,
Inquisition venting its wrath

on spirit by way of the flesh.
I leave the bus at a village
shaped like moonset and walk.

Rocks, scrubby trees, shy yellow
flowers I can’t name. Sheep grunt
and groan at me. They fear the unknown,

the man on foot with shoulder bag
weighted with camera and flask.
The Pyrenees tower over me

and cast afternoon shadows so thick
that wading through them exhausts me.
If I lie at the roadside farmers

in dusty trucks will halt to offer
a ride in Basque. But I walk on,
afraid to succumb to the curse,

my footfall on the gravel road
more a scuffing than a stride.
Too old and gray to tempt women

lurking among the sheep, too dull
to recall Hemingway’s travel
through this same rough pass, I pour

myself downhill into Spain
as if dumping soured milk.
The plain below looks too flat

to support human habitation,
but I suppose people look up
at the jags of the Pyrenees

and comfort themselves by picturing
their dead souls draped on barren peaks
for their favorite god to scourge.

About the Author: William Doreski teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent collection of poetry is Waiting for the Angel (2009). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Atlanta Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and Natural Bridge.