“Elegy for Madrid” by Catherine Ruffing

Catherine Ruffing


I carry a city of five million on my back: I’m learning
its weight, its noise. I talk to it, out loud, telling it

You’re not even that pretty. Your landscape doesn’t take any breaths away and your metropolis spills into the desert with ugly Franco-era buildings only spotted here and there with an ancient puerta or monument. I wouldn’t spend two days here, if I were only visiting. But it has been eight months since I left and I can’t wake up without feeling you still draped on my back, heavy as absence, or longing. You carve deep aches into my stomach as I haul you around in circles, trying to face you again. Your noise is silence, which is funny, because you’re supposed to be the second loudest city in the world, but I can’t hear a thing. Only my own foreign accent, spitting out the words you taught to other foreign ears.

I’m slowly losing my dream of you. Sometimes all I can remember are afternoons in Retire, or walking towards Cibeles past my favorite building: the one with the chrome-and-gold dome. The streets filled with trash and the dark corners where gypsies crept, calling out for a few cents, the oppressive stench of stale cigarette smoke, the catcalls from balconies, are all fading away. But I want to keep the ugly, too.

Todavia no puedo despedir. I didn’t say
my goodbyes before I left. I say them now, a few each day.

from Rattle #20, Winter 2003

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