by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
From the outside, Lorca’s summer house in Granada reminds me of childhood laughter, something he vowed never to lose: doors and windows painted promise-green, white walls, sunlight sliding like a child on snow, belly down. On my way here, I’ve seen tomatoes nearly as big as cantaloupes in a shop not far from the sign for this place: “Calle Arabial” and “Parque de F. Garcia Lorca.” I’m entering the world of Lorca’s poems as I take paths canopied by sequoias, pines, poplars, olive and pomegranate trees, expecting to be ambushed by the mischievous, life-affirming “house spirit” duende which inspires poetry by challenging one to a “duel on the rim of a well” according to Lorca.
Inside, the tour guide says no cameras please. I glance at the drawings, photographs, furniture, piano. Where is duende hiding?
Upstairs, the floor tiles are an imitation of the tiles of the Alhambra palace.
Light and shadow are playing a furtive game on the floor, puppeteered by the sun, the breeze, and the lace curtains. I make it a point to take in the view from as many windows as possible. Paying attention to a window is the best way to pay homage to a poet.
This house is not Lorca’s childhood house but he had to have brought childhood with him here; duende’s raw, frightening, empowering energies have much to do with childhood. Lorca kept writing back to that moment in which he saw the face of death at his window in the form of a boy called bitterness. It was a lifelong duel, with poetry as armor.
When I look out Lorca’s window, I see my own phantoms closely. They reside among Lorca’s. He took a dive into the lost world of Al Andalus just as I did. He sculpted poetry from its ashes and listened for its pulse in its poetic forms. In Lorca’s gacelas and casidas, modeled after the ghazal and qasida of Andalusi Arabic poetry, I found traces of a shared heritage. Urdu, my mother tongue, is tied to Arabic in the same way as Arabic is tied to Spanish. Poetic tradition is a blueprint of sorts; it can house historic nostalgia. Lorca explains it in his poetry, art and lectures. Throughout my writing life, I have attempted to explain it as I keep finding and losing these threads.
I stand by Lorca’s window; beyond the rose bushes, maple and plums trees in the park, is the red palace, the Alhambra, where many of the figures of my book lived and died, where Lorca loved to visit as a child, and later as a poet, where the haunting never stops.