PoetryIssue 08 | February 2010

Lisbon Holds a Prisoner One Night

by Haley Larson

The last train left for Madrid six minutes before
my broken attempts at words had failed.  Common sense
says that language, when foreign, can sound so unreal,
and obrigado never sank in as the right
word for thank you.  As my harsh mouth spoke to the tide
in my tongue – goodbyes – far off a train whistle blew

like a snide indication that maybe this blue
would be the last color I’d recognize as fore-
ground.  And when I missed the train, I swore at the tide
in the few words I knew.  Did it make any sense
to shell out eight Euros for sleep, when shells slept right
at my two feet?  A fisherman clicked in his reel,

struggled with demons and what looked to be a real,
big fish.  If he had faith in the brash winds that blew
whoppers from mute ocean floors, inspired them right
to the surface for lunch, then I could believe for
one night that my guts were, in fact, golden – nonsense
persuades like a desperate woman’s mind.  I tied

my supplies to misplanned piers, too far from the tide
to have ever touched water, and crafted as real
a bed as sheets and towels allowed.  I sensed
my fear in fitful, sandy sleep and dreamed of blue
shadows skittering on benches too near.  And four
times I woke, hands strangling air, like captors were writ-

ing my ransom notes.  I labeled that night my Rite
of the Traveler, when after eight hours, I untied
my pack, thought better of light.  Obrigado for
once hit my lips before thanks, and the ocean reeled
back a de nada of crashes and sprays – the blues
of the sea’s musical language.  Safe in the sense

that I was alive, I laughed that for stingy cents,
a rare sterile hostel beamed vacancia right
down and around the corner.  But that night the blue
midnight sky forgave my solitude and untied
my foreign tongue.  Flopping for breath, my fear reeled
like the fisherman’s catch – it teased, tasting sweet for  

its scent of death.  Fortified, I ebbed like the tide
right as the train came in.  I felt almost as real
as blue in my veins, the sea, the one I looked for.

About the author

When Haley Larson was twenty, she backpacked alone through eleven countries, where she hiked up (and fell down) the bulbous slopes of Montserrat, slept on frosty ship decks from Croatia to Italy to Greece, and got reprimanded by Bosnian border guards about her age, gender and general aloneness. Her reviews and interviews appear in Rattle and Superstition Review.  Her father speaks to her in German, and she currently pursues her MFA in poetry at Colorado State University.

Read our current issue:


Two poems by Anne Babson
Vignette, Townhouse, 9 a.m. by Troy Cunio
Night Becomes Day Over the West by Megan Foley
Yukon River Aurora by D. B. Goman
Two Poems by David Havird
Cretan Love Letter by Emily Linstrom
Holland by Rick Mullin
Fear in Kenya by Kristina Pfleegor
The Lounge Lizard by Ed Shacklee
Two Poems by Sarah J. Sloat
Night Flight by Vicki Stannard
Koinonia Farms by Alina Stefanescu
Thessaloniki, Four a.m. by Anastasia Vassos
Imaginary Oceans by Jason Warren
Two Poems by F. J. Williams

Postcard prose

It’s Salty by Kelly Hill

Travel notes

Anchorage in the Great Land by Karen Benning
The Value of Small Money by Megan Hallinan
Screensaver by Sandra Larson
Thirty Cents by Tommy McAree
Gokarna by Kate McCahill
Going Places by Rachel Miller-Howard
Susanville CA: Notes From The Road by Susan Volchok