Anna Crowe's sequence of twenty-one poems Figure in a Landscape was published by Mariscat Press and launched at the StAnza poetry festival in St Andrews in 2010. It was the Poetry Book Society's pamphlet choice for Spring 2010.
The sequence is a meditation on Paisatge amb figueres (Landscape with fig trees), the work of sculptor Andreu Maimó. Anna Crowe dedicates the book to her brother-in-law and niece and to the memory of her sister, adding the following note:
"The place-names are the names of Maimó’s ceramics and paintings, and of farms on the island of Mallorca, where my sister lived for some years after leaving Madrid. I first came across Maimó’s work in a catalogue a few months after my sister’s death. Even on the page, his life-size ceramic evocations of fig trees have tremendous presence. I had always planned to give my sister a fig tree, but between my ordering it from the nursery and its arrival in Pollença she died."
The sequence has been translated into Catalan and has in turn inspired a new set of engravings by Andreu Maimó which was published by Ensiola, Mallorca in a paperback bilingual edition and in a numbered folio edition (March 2011).
Figure in a Landscape received the Callum MacDonald Memorial award for Scottish pamphlet poetry in May 2011
An antique figure
crouched in the old orchard
her tough bark knuckled and fissured
She has been standing there, how long?
More than a hundred years
many hundreds perhaps
And carrying a great weight—
—a hint of a raised arm, there
where the shoulders would be
and the invisible feet
apart and braced
Lay it down, little sister
Lay it down in the fig tree’s shade
Perhaps you were too small
to remember her, our mother’s
cleaning-woman in Hornsea?
How did she wring out a cloth
manage a broom, the hoover?
I can still see that fist
A knot of flesh and bone
the industrial machine
had sewn so well
even the surgeons
wouldn’t unpick it
Dense as a clot
No fingers left
of branches dancing
A mother and child of a tree.
And because the tree grows slowly
the new growth is smoother-skinned
more tender, reaching out to touch
the rough coat of the weeping mother.
Our father has carried the sick family dog
into the vet’s to be put down.
We wait in the car and you are eight
and I am ten and our mother’s sobbing
is more than we can bear.
I sit stiff with hurt, but you lean forward
finger her sleeve and whisper
kind, practical words; how we’ll go
to the library, and she can change her books
and start to feel better.
We are unprepared for what follows.
It is not our mother who whirls round in her seat,
this red-eyed, glaring witch’s mask
who screams at you and calls you wicked,
hard, heartless. No. It is not our mother.
It is some thoughtless, selfish child,
and you are the mother.
But that day settled into its silence
like a large stone around your roots,
a clot in memory’s artery
that blocked all recollection of that day
and all the years that went before.
How strange you’ve grown
wired and taut as a trigger
A rifle ready to fire
While our father
lay on the ground at Bisley
lip thickening from the rifle’s recoil
as he aimed at targets across the heather
you and I wandered finding harebells
behind the lines—flowers
of an unearthly blue
each one solitary
on its wiry stem
that trembled at the guns’ uproar
and rang so faintly
only you and I could hear them
Back home we could keep
the empty cartridges
They stood on the shelf
like a row of shining headless dolls
High walls, mute, shuttered windows:
La Cour Bastide
In the shady yard at break
in the hubbub of strange language
others chalked the grid of la marelle
numbered the spaces 1, 2, 3
then halfway L’ENFER
then 4, 5, 6 to the dome at the end LE CIEL
Aiming the stone
we ventured our small attempts with
awkward as geese on bumpy ground
we tried not to land in hell
Throw by throw
words, whole phrases
crept from between the lines
trembled like lizards in the cracks of walls
then flew like the stone from our throats
Sometimes our words drew smiles
as kind as the fig tree
in the box-hedged garden
of Madame la Directrice
—A toi le tour! —A moi? —Oui, oui
Lance ta pierre! Vas-y!
But now you have thrown your stone
far beyond these walls
and I imagine it flying
like one of Andreu’s doves
into that blue
Lobed and palmate
glossy and pliant when young
veined like our hands
mapped with capillaries
with life line and love line
with what’s done and what’s to come
The skin grows rough and mottled
darkening, dotted with galls like liver-spots
with pocks and clots and rings of rust
fallen they stiffen like leather
crackle underfoot, crumble in dust
yet still retain the scent the whole tree has
a musky pungency like no other
Even when burning
the wood keeps its peculiar sweetness
February, another fire, the smell of winter
the mistral blowing out of a sky as blue
as a glacier, freezing hands and faces
Our father burned dead fig branches
while we played in the old wash-house
making those daft models in plaster-of-Paris—
Snow White with dwarfs, Humpty-Dumpty—
We learned how brittle our world was
how fragile the things we make to love
laid out like jewels
glow like drops of blood
like the babies you lost
embryos in wrinkled sacs
gilded with filigree
just look at you
trying to do
ten things at once
twisting your branches
so as to hold on
jobs almost dropping
your filofax your body
determined to do it
all carry on
weeping all at once
This tree is a grey-faced woman
who struggles to her feet, one arm
a broken branch hanging useless
The wild fire on the hill
you have escaped for now
but you are tinder-dry this summer
Terracing lies tumbled around you
Earlier we stood in the gloom of the cave
wondering why we had come
Inside, the usual debris
human excrement, tissues, rusting tins
a goat’s skeleton picked clean by ants
blackened stones of a makeshift hearth
To please our father, find his fabled cave
we had scrambled over boulders
cut ourselves on razor-grass
and now your arm is broken
Two daughters in their fifties
still trying to prove
they are as good as the sons he wanted
We should have followed the example of Vassilissa
borne the goat skull home
and let the darkness in its sockets
blaze our rage, burn down the house
They have the exact colours of the ring
I gave you for your twenty-first:
moss-agate in a plain crown-
setting in silver
You never wore it
After you died
your daughter gave it to me
the metal black and tarnished
Blue-green veins like moss
branching round a reddish flame
a clot of rust
that might have warned you
what that chest pain meant
I wear it always
and the wearing of it
keeps it from tarnishing
My hands are freckled now with age
My gift to you
my own memento mori
Standing on the bend before Can Xura
the finest fig tree in La Font.
Rustling a little as a moped passes
dusty in summer yet drawing its water
up from aquifers fed by rain
falling on the Tramuntana,
does it still bear fruit?
When our children were small
there was always water at Easter time
flowing in the Sant Jordi torrent;
enough for children to dam
with small rocks; a dazzle of water, enough
for a pair of mallard and their brood
to swim in below the little farm
at the foot of the Vall de Ternelles.
Can Xura lies like an old dog in the sun
beside the opening to the valley gorge
blinking its œil-de-bœuf Moorish windows.
In the big kitchen Moor and Christian
took the oath that gives the house its name
to keep the peace and share the water
No water flows now along the conduits
the Arabs built on top of the walls.
The iron gates to the valley
are permanently locked to coaches
of foreign walkers who once came every day.
More swimming-pools drain the aquifers.
The bed of the torrent is filling up
with tyres and supermarket trolleys.
Only after a cloudburst does water flow
in the Sant Jordi torrent. The fig orchards,
the almond orchards are grubbed up. A dazzle
of concrete hurts the eyes. The island grows dry.
The island we knew is dead, and so are you.
Does the sweetest fig tree in La Font
still bear fruit?