Lisbon Haibun

By Melissa Oliveira

Fall in the Alfama district, and all the bright skirts float down the city’s aston-
ishment of hills. The surprise of verticality, the step-polished marble underfoot,
the sun reflecting up, and I am always already sliding, or else just about to
slide. I claw at the shopkeeper’s rack of postcards, pause to watch the lipsticked
London women in the glissade of new wedges with untried soles, to read the
graffitied stucco wall: pura poeta. Not all of us who fall seem to mind; only
yesterday, in a splintered tram, I stood behind a stern German who lost her grip
around a turn. When she caught herself, the stoic control of her face opened
into joy, her blue eyes dancing as she swung herself on the metal rail. When I
tried to meet her smile with my own, hers vanished. I moved to the rear to dis-
embark, the sudden brake shoving me into a sturdy old man who laughed and
asked me something in a tongue I do not speak, though the message was clear.
Listen, maybe falling is why we come here at all. Only the dark-eyed man in his
fine suit—he wore your face, uncle, looked the age you were when you died—
knew how to control the fall: loosen the knees, shift the body’s gravity forward,
and never trust the temptation to lean back. Remember: only the dead are so
surefooted they will never fall again. On the stucco wall, someone changed the
words overnight to puta poeta; as I notice it, I feel again the shift of my sole, the
tightening of muscles and think, for a flash, of the sacred duty of those still in
warm and breathing flesh: to always be falling, and willing to fall for the world.
My bag’s contents all around, the act of picking stones from the palm’s soft
flesh—this, too, is holy. And with my knees on the cobbles, I look up

       An ancient woman
       clips the wash to the clothesline.
       Crimson lace, floating.

Melissa Oliveira’s writing is published or forthcoming in Ploughshares Solos, AGNI, Pleiades, Calyx and others. Her work has garnered a Best American Essays Notable, a Best of the Net nomination and an honorable mention from Glimmer Train. Her book reviews have appeared in Hippocampus, The Kenyon Review Online, The Rumpus and more. She currently lives in Berlin, where she is working on a novel about the divided city.


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