Four Chestnut Kings
When I read poetry, it’s not customary to do it in one sitting, since verse can be overbearing at times, especially when the verse in question is condensed with a large amount of information or emotional overdraws. So, to break that cycle of lyricentric text, I will make a little break and explore the wonders of my culture with you.
In the Portuguese province where I grew up and still live, Ribatejo, there used to be a big amount of agriculture. In fact, most of my family still works in that field, working sun to sun along the plantations of Tagus. These men and women who journeyed from far to find work at the river basin, commonly denominated “gaibéus”, worked seasonally in the process of removing weed and debris from the yearly plantations, along with cleaning the non- cultivated fields in order to avoid crop-destroying vermin and wild-fires.
Being a descendent of such inspiring figures whose work was so elementary and harsh, I’ve always felt tenderly connect to the earth of our province. Its fertility and unbound resilience binds with my flesh, courses through my veins and forms me, as if I’m a plant of these fields, yielding fruits in shapes of worship and care.
In our village, four men stood as figures taken out of a painting. All day, every single day, they would gather in a stone table beneath the centurial chestnut tree that grew in the town-square, and they gambled away their hours with Swedish cards. For twenty-two years, I don’t remember ever seeing them anywhere else, and after so long, they still play the same game using the same spent and ancient deck. I’ve always been a lonely and sensitive child, and would have a hard time making friends, so I started watching them play cards in hopes they would interact with me.
The day they did and the days that followed were among the most important in my young life. And at the impish age of twelve, I discovered poetry without ever reading a poem. As Oscar Wilde says and rightly so – from my experience – “A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realise.”
Those men, who I’ve nicknamed “The Four Chestnut Kings” over the years, and have nicknamed me “Crow-boy”, taught me those values of our culture and earth. They taught me living poetry, the likes of which can never be written, only lived, experienced and passed onto those who are open to it.
Along their many lessons that I was far too young to comprehend, one has followed me throughout every bar I had to jump over during my trials: growth should always elevate above pride. Our world, the fragments of those who lived before us and those who shall outlive us, the meticulously woven fabric that runs through our gentle interactions, coursing from the deepest trenches of our beings and effusing everything with a touch of pure selfless humanity, all these concepts require nurture and growth well beyond what one person can contribute. But we all should, we must.
My little corner of the world still lives and breathes faintly, and as sure as the Sun shall rise, the pillars of our culture will weaken and collapse. Younglings like me are tasked with preserving the legacy of those who have preceded, and assure that it continues. Whether in our Art, in our strange and fast speech that no one can understand at times, in our cold buildings whose freshness allowed us to prosper during harsh Summers, or even in our strange obsession with wine and piquette. Who I am, and the simple fact that I am, I owe to my rich and ancient culture, and perpetuating it through conservation is beyond imperative to me. For as long as I live, so shall my culture.
The First King, Sr. António, taught me that he would have never been happy had his life been different. Such humility and resolve isn’t a consequence of self-indulgence or denial, but rather, the mere act of seeing endless beauty in the particles of dust visible by sunlight between those chestnut leaves. The same specks we are often reduced to when the large and ever-hungry concepts of infinitude and meaninglessness assault us, giving us sight of a Universe that far precedes our presence and will long outlive it. But we needed’t be small bellow those distant stars, we can instead relish in the fact that we have the ability to see them, feel their heat and radiation, witness their light-year brightness. The simple fact we can conceive these concepts shouldn’t be reason to reduce us, but rather, it should empower our visions and ambitions.
The Second King, Sr. João, insisted that no love ever equals the first. Although I’ve always questioned his truth, he seemed headstrong about the universality of what he affirmed. To him, the first time you fell in love was the most important, perhaps not the most intense or pleasant, maybe even short-lived and insufficient. He said it could have lasted seconds, and that still wouldn’t change the magnitude of its influence within our beings. It took me a while to understand, but I believe he might be correct.
The Third King, Sr. Lima, was an avid fan of traditional Portuguese culture, often stating that he would never bear dying outside of Portugal, hence why he never left the country. The slightest risk of not ending his life where it started, he said, would be reckless, because doing so would devalue every figment of his being. Portugal had given him everything, every moment of joyous pleasure and every laughter, the smiles and giggles of children, the sinuous shapes of grape-picking women that he flirted with in his youth. All of it was his, all for him to blossom and grow, melodies made for him to hum and dance to, but more importantly—it was all sufficient.
The fourth King, Sr. Zé, would often say that the world always gives us more than we can give back, while the others nodded with certainty.
From that point on, I started looking at moments cinematically. The conversations between my parents as I rode with them across the mountainside dirt roads, the breathing patterns and subjects, everything aligned in a grand display of colours and lights. My first love was this land, and I couldn’t be happy elsewhere. Giving back to it is my singular purpose, through poetry and prose, Art and life, I plan to give every atom of my body to this earth, certain that I shall never be able to give it more than what it has given me. That, in its most profound essence, is comfort. And the cinematic life I’ve been granted in its rawest form, is my living poetry.
Part of True-Ultra.