Like an old Victrola, its needle stuck
In the groove where the flamenco dancer
Patters her firecracker feet to the floor,
Machine gun maracas, so the cicada
Pays homage to its clattery muse,
She who pitied the flight of Tithonus
Withering eternally through his dog days,
So the myth tells us, unable to die,
His timbals buckling to fashion song,
The shucked body transfigured
With its losses—a wanton, wending
“Come hither” to the beloved,
Wings like a window’s beveled glass,
The female slitting a twig’s bark
To lay her eggs so the nymphs, newborn,
Can drop, shimmering pink shower,
To the ground to feed on plant roots
For the five instars before emerging,
Magicicada, after seventeen years
Into imago, to sing its risen song again,
Dithering hum, dizzying ascension,
Like a mass exodus of souls from the earth.
And what lifts the heart is another longing,
Sagrada, and picture Gaudi laboring
On the nave that would become his crypt,
The temple accruing niche by niche
In slow time like a holy mountain—
God’s body in rock, a radiant parlante.
The nudity of the beggar is seen
Through his rags, he would say, whose eyes
Friends remarked were piercing blue seas.
Though he would engineer the spirit
From the opulence of trash, crockery
And bedsprings, broken tiles and toys.
All found their place in habitations
Of the fabulous, improvisation, geometry,
Monserrat’s high womb, Taragona’s light,
Oven linings, needles, metal bands, shards.
Nature, he felt, abhors the monochrome.
So he daubed his surfaces with objets trouvés,
Cameos and collage, un-buttressed ascent,
Grotto, diorama, carnival and shrine,
Desiring to capture in his flares and folds
The plastic reality of the spiritual world.
And so behold the metamorphosis
Of turtle into forest into catenary sky,
Snail and sunflower, a quickening of leaves,
All things in trencadís, parabolic flight,
The soul’s promise in a liturgy of stone.
In his last months he slept among them,
The uncompleted forms, the dreamt façades,
And kept like clockwork his daily ritual,
Morning Mass, angelus, late confession, prayer,
While in between he hammered out
His plans, a universe rising alluvial
(God, my patron, is in no real hurry)
On the luminous toposera of the Baix Camp.
So he walked the restive streets of the Ramblas
Honing his vision, to heal through material
The nightmare of materialism, working
Like a minimalist of the monumental scale,
Seeking the equilibrium of earth
And heaven—cicada, sagrada—La Sagrada
Familia, with its numbers and symbols
Of creation’s mosaic, with its four façades
For nativity, passion, judgment, resurrection,
With its eighteen steeples spiraling inwardly
Like a nautilus, with its transept cross
Marking the infinite directions, with its excess
And absence like the Mystical Body.
When the tram struck him that bright June day
Ten years before the civil war, the anarchists
Who’d ransack his grave and burn his plans,
No one recognized the great man bleeding
On the ground, pants secured with safety pins,
His hollow shoulders swimming in his suit,
A handful of nuts and raisins in his pocket.
So they carried off the coppersmith’s son
Who would ride his donkey through Ruidon,
A sickly boy, a troublesome birth. So he died
Like the homeless, broken among the poor
Whom he loved, master of play and praise,
Genius whose art was a frozen music.
So on his final day in his unfinished templum
He closed his prints, a hush like a plainchant
Of folding wings, calling to his assistant
My friend we must come back early tomorrow
So together we can make more beautiful things.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.