Sweet bird-of-paradise


       more than meets the eye
stiff erect leathery leaves
       bluish green with perhaps
a red midrib
       held aloft on a long petiole

the orange and blue flowers
       have two erect pointed petals
and five stamens :
       the flower bract is shaped
like a boat
       with green and red borders
—it bears fruit capsules
       containing numerous seeds

An angel masquerading
       as exotic flora
its role is to induce calm
       in the eye of the beholder
so much effortless beauty
       rising out of the earth
its silence announces
       that all will be well and that
wherever it is present
       there will be peace and love

John Lyons

The laurel forests of Madeira

Laurel Forest Madeira

We travelled north
       through the mountains
through the town of São Vicente
       —lush evergreen laurel forest
on either side of the road
       the deep emerald vegetation
obscuring the rough terrain shaped
      by volcanoes long extinct

That day the sun shone
       and the air felt cool and fresh
as we climbed into the hills
       and here and there we saw
tall torrents of mineral water
       cascading perpendicularly
into streams that churned
       in beds lined with pumice

And arriving at the shore in Seixal
       with its tall rugged cliffs
where these thin rivulets plunged
       abruptly over the edge
into the aimless sea I thought
       of time and love and light and
all things that at the end of the day
       spread out into nothing

John Lyons

Eating limpets in Seixal


How could we forget
       the delicate flavour
of those lapas grilled
       in their shells
with butter and garlic
       and a little lemon juice
served with Madeira’s
       traditional bolo de caco

a flat circular garlic bread
       made from wheat
and sweet potato
       the hot pan awaiting you
that glorious afternoon
       when you swam
with a golden retriever
       in the volcanic lagoon
: does it ever get
       any better than that ?

John Lyons

In love and war


A volcanic island
       once covered in forest
that is to say trees
       that is to say wood
which in Portuguese
       is Madeira

Imagine the mountains
       set ablaze to clear the land
a huge pyre burning
       day and night for weeks
a beacon of colonization
       in a vast empty ocean

To explore is a hunting term
       to cry out when game
has been discovered – and
       such are the rules of the game
all being equal that summer
       in love and in war

John Lyons

A day at the beach- Prainha do Caniçal


A secluded family beach

       set in a natural cove
and accessible only
       by a series of steep steps
: there you bathed
       and we lay on our towels
and lapped up
       the unbroken sunshine

When lunch came
       four sardines on a plate
and a bowl of French fries
       which we ate overlooking
the immaculate ocean
       : from sunrise to sunset
all that we had was what
       we had within our hands

John Lyons

The struggle is love

           Down by Cristo Rei, Garajau, Madeira

Where is peace
to be found ?

not in silence
not in inactivity

not in meditation
nor in transcendence

we descended
the steep incline

down to the statue
of Cristo Rei

gazed out over
the deep blue sea

the ragged rocks
of petrified lava

watched the early birds
feeding on the wing

saw sparrows thread
through the scrub

nature’s innocents
who know no better

who know all
they need to know

people came and went
families and couples

their breath taken
to admire the view

the struggle
is love – always

John Lyons

Beware where you put your hand


A leopard’s spots never change
       but these Madeiran wall lizards
are something else varying their colour
       to suit their surroundings

Endemic to the island
       you see these comedians
these chameleons
in shades of brown or grey
       or with a greenish tinge
or finely flecked
       with dark markings and
white or creamy underparts
       though some of the males
have red or orange underparts
       and blue throats
but these bright colours fade
       if the animal is disturbed

Under attack
       the brightly coloured tail
will break off and wriggle
       for a few minutes
to distract the attacker
       allowing the lizard to escape

They feed on ants
       or scraps of vegetation
but tourists beware
       they will take a nip
if you place you hand
       where it’s really not wanted

John Lyons

Machico’s Romeo and Juliet


                      Frank Dillon, The Chapel of Miracles (watercolour, 1849)

Within the Chapel of Miracles
A Capela dos Milagres
lie the bodies of the adventurer
Robert Machim and the aristocratic
Anne d’Arfet – ill-starred lovers
from the fourteenth century

Forced to elope from Bristol
their ship was driven
by a fierce storm away
from the coast of France
only to land thirteen days later
on the island of Madeira

Within days Anne died
of exhaustion – within days
Robert followed her
to the grave

John Lyons

Just add a little lipstick


The Portuguese budião
       or wrasse
is a curious thick-lipped fish
       and an Atlantic loner –
all are born female
       but over the years
many mutate to male
       at which point they build
circular nests of algae
       leaving open slits
where the female
       lays its eggs

The English name comes
       from the Cornish gwragh
a mouthful meaning old woman or hag
       but lightly grilled
its mild white flesh
       is a culinary delight

John Lyons

Love and trust

These then are the people we are
       we travel back and forth
to Funchal or to Machico
       to Seixal or to Porto Moniz
we lie on sun-drenched beaches
       and navigate the rocks and stones
we drink from plastic bottles
       and climb steep rugged hills
with the agility of billy goats
       we eat whatever the restaurants
push our way without complaint
       we examine our consciences
by reading the old colonial histories
       stamped on church walls and ceilings
After dark we count countless stars
       and pay allegiance to a golden moon
sparrowhawks mewl in the night
       and visit the ledges of our dreams

We are all the things we ever wanted to be
       yet having travelled so far
still have so far to go
       love and trust stroll hand in hand
through narrow dusty streets
       love and trust lie in a single bed
love and trust bring new names
       into the world and shield the dead
from permanent death
       paradise we know can be clinched
with a kiss if the time is right
       and good fortune comes our way
to keep growling hound dogs
       and sacrificial gods at bay

John Lyons