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Avenida

Yesterday they were taking a body from the water: at the top of the Westerdoksdijk. I saw the Harbour Police launch moored to the dock and the body being lifted onto the wharf. Even from a distance I knew it was a dead body. There was something inert and silent about it. Some reverence in the way the leather jacketed bodies set it down carefully on the wooden boards. I saw the limp, wet shape, the darkened clothing and wondered. Who it was it? Was someone somewhere at that moment looking anxiously at a clock and asking where a loved one was? Or perhaps no one noticed. Normally I approach this spot from the de Ruijterkade. I follow the twist of a descending road, keep to the waters edge and cross onto the bridge. Then I am approaching the rail tracks and the old harbours. I like the sounds of the waterfront in my ears. It is a little bleak. It has a feeling of having one time been useful. Now it looks forgotten. Yet I like the way the mist sometimes creeps in across the open space and off Het Ij. Once I sat at the end of one of the rotting piers when there was a full moon. To my left was a tall, deserted warehouse and in front of me only the lapping of black water. That was a November night. This morning I step from the pavement and onto a disused rail siding. As I pass the spot where yesterday they were taking the body from the water I find myself thinking of the south. In the morning sunlight, in the warmth of mid-July, it is as if hearing a voice and it is whispering into my ear. It sings lightly over the water. I am leaning over a balcony. On an adjacent balcony a woman stands. She smiles. Her eyes are brown and she has black wavy hair. It is her who sings. I hear a fountain tinkle, a door open and footsteps cross a square. Then the singing is quiet and getting quieter. It blocks out all other sounds until I feel it inside me. The strands of wild grass sway in the breeze. It seems the voice fills me and for a moment all other things, the water, the harbour, the rise of a bridge over a quay, the motion of a train entering the station, are gone. Burnt away as if in a flash. Pushing back the edges of the day like flame eating paper. Like a guitar struck so with each vibration, each resonating string I am caught and feel myself swept into another world. My ears catch a wave from the waterfront and I understand it is this day, this moment, and I am within it. It runs like a line through my every action. Until it is evening and the woman stands beneath a tree on a long avenida: Perhaps an olive tree, or an orange tree. She is waiting for me. The straps of her light dress hang loosely from her shoulders. A saffron scarf holds up her hair. And the moment is repeated: so that I touch it again. Only it passes and I see the disused warehouse, the line of the harbour, and the blades of grass bending in the breeze. I feel 1

that the morning is suddenly smiling at me. Every body that drowns does so endlessly and with the touch of a woman. Every body that drowns is the body of a sailor and in drowning is a return and each return is the drift of all things on through time.

Copyright Peter Millington.

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