Paul Durcan, “The Last Shuttle to Rio” (dedicated to Patrick Early)

[Source: - A poem from Greetings to Our Friends in Brazil: One Hundred Poems (1999), rep. in Irish Studies in Brazil [Pesquisa e Crítica, 1], ed. Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra (Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005), pp.29-31.]

It’s been a bad day in São Paulo.

Paulistas have a saying
“Life is a game of the hips”
But today my hips had a bad game.
My knees have been up to the mark
But my hips have been pathetic.

Standing up at the counter of a cafe
In the airport at Congonhas,
Stirring my coffee with my right hand,
Holding my mobile phone in my left hand,
I am whispering to my publisher;
Whispering in low, steadfast, tightlipped whines
“Why were my books not there?”
“Where were my books?”
“Why was Ivan Kerr in Belo Horizonte
When he was supposed to be in São Paulo?”

Through the condensed perspiration of my hysterical whispers
I discern a small, lean, nine-year-old black boy
With a shoebox on his shoulder pointing down at my shoes.
Yet another intrusion in a day of multiple intrusions.
I bounce my skull angrily: Sim, sim, sim.
Hopping the ball of my skull off the tiled floor of my anger.

I resume berating my publisher
Immediately erasing from my mind
The shoeshine boy kneeling at my feet
Until I feel a tapping at my knee.
What do you want now?
He wants my left foot.
He’s done with my right.

I glimpse the frills of his jet black hair.
They are perfect frills
Perfectly formed pasta frills.
What a shine he is giving me!
For the first time today
I feel a pang of wellbeing.

All the while he is polishing me
He is watching me
With hot, scooped eyes staring up
Out of his yellow T-shirt
I am no longer abusing
My hurting publisher.

The shoeshine boy is sprinting.
He is putting his right arm into it.
Putting everything into his right arm.
Putting everything into his rag.

He leaps to his feet.
He has finished. He squashes
A coke tin in his small fist.
I beg my publisher’s forgiveness.
I hang up,
Clipping my mobile
Back on to my hip.
I thank him for giving me
Such a brilliant shine.
I say: “Obrigado.”
He replies with a shy shrug:
“De nada.”

My God, you have made
My day in São Paulo
And you have the audacity
To reply “De nada”.

With your shoebox on your shoulder
You repeat with unconditional candour
“De nada”
Gazing up unblinking into my eyes.

I stutter: “What is your name?”
Out of your mouth-womb
Leaps your divine name:
“Einstein! Einstein João Luis Soares!”

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