Forced Moment at El Torcal, Andalucía

Forced Moment at El Torcal, Andalucía
Published: Dec 05, 2014
A poem and reading from a new collection, 'Steps', about intimate journeys through landscapes of England, Ethiopia, Scotland, Spain and Wales. On this one, the author loses himself in the beauty of Andalucía's most vulnerable geology.


The god and the beast                               

                                  playing on the stone

                                                                together, the white stone,

Our reading-stone with its channels [...]

— Peter Redgrove



And in short, I was afraid.

— T.S. Eliot


"My gentle friend . .  patient, waiting until I ask for clues."


This is a high plateau where deep time fights stone.
El Torcal is karst landscape — lime
stone performed upon by water & wind. A
of sea-bed micro-bones & ground shells. Sculpted or

Castles, towers, grey battleships, eroded sky
-scrapers, cracked sphinxes, fragments of moon, fossilised
galleons, ectoplasm petrified, solid ghosts of some
world’s aeons, toppling temples, turds of gods, crowds
of still silence chatting & dancing, corridors

& crevasses for brambles & hawthorns.

           A cabra montés on his limestone pedestal silhouetted,
           the curved V of his swept
           -back horns weapon-elegant. And across

           the valley from him, beyond bleached chess-pieces
           & wrecked battalions of stone, female mountain goats
           atop blocks & spires, like look-outs, like
           Classical statues but
           alive & energised by pre-history’s wild.

I scramble in amongst the grey maze
of buttresses & slots full of thorns & dark drops.
I get myself lost. Jump an irreversible gap.

Irresistible. Sweat erodes my face, shines
on my mask. I climb. I’m gleefully frightened —
night is not far off, and without light
the molars & fangs I clamber round will be closed
in a dark mouth. And I will have to curl
up cold amongst a god’s teeth. In my fortieth
year — stay with stone; my delicate lime frame,
I hang my meat on, dried amongst compressed
& eroded remains of ancient tiny beasts. I struggle.

A small animated statue of my self in amongst
my own brain’s maze. Folds, flaps & channels of stone.
Each jump or grip I make is me, me
as a thought of myself, a will across synapse.
I love this alive deadly dance through
some world’s limestone cortex high on a plateau.

And I’m not alone.

I hear the leathery clatter of cabras’ hooves.
I feel how bramble has scratched the back of my hand.
I see griffon vultures – two broad-winged soaring seekers, one
above me, the other a mottled blur in flow below.
I hear the clong-clonging of a sheep-flock’s bells.
I smell my meat’s work seep from my skin.
And from a crack in grey matter — a bright

azure & yellow-tongued iris rising
on a long stem of pale green light.

And I see my gentle friend standing, just beyond
the labyrinth’s edge,
by a cream-dressed hawthorn, patient, waiting
until I ask for clues for release. I ask. She calls.

Her voice tells to me The Myth
of Exits. She gives
directions from a rim’s perspective. And so

I climb down the last hard blob of brain – free
to step amongst brief flowers & crisp thistles.




MARK GOODWIN is a poet-sound-artist, walker, climber, balancer and stroller. Leafe Press will soon be publishing his and Julia Thornley's chapbook, 'Tones Fled All', which is a 'gleaning' from Peter Riley's Alstonefield. Mark's first album of sound-enhanced poetry, 'steps / sounds', is a limited editon CD which accompanies 'Steps', as a gift from Longbarrow Press.

See Mark's site.

'Steps' by Mark Goodwin 
is available from Longbarrow Press. A text-version of 'Forced Moment at El Torcal, Andalucía' was first published in Poetry Salzburg Review, No. 14 (Autumn 2008).

A karst landscape is a terrain, generally underlain by limestone or dolomite, in which the topography is chiefly formed by the dissolving of rock and which may be characterized by sinkholes, sinking streams, closed depressions, subterranean drainage, and caves. It is sometimes referred to as a 'vulnerable landscape.'



1. Torcal de Antequera, Andalucía, Spain.

2. Cabra montés and rock — photo by Nikki Clayton.

3. Amonite fossil.

4. Karst landscape diagram.

5. Home page image.


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