The things I’d do to crunch leaves beneath my feet

(Notes from a journey)

I am relearning how to be a passenger –
how to travel alone on slick rails or the lumbering rumble of this near-empty bus,
pointed toward Madrid.

The clouds began to gather over the Mediterranean, light pushing us inland.
We pass places I will never see up close.
An old man pokes around with a cane under an olive tree.
Broken walls drown in the brush, or circle fortresses perched on cliffs,
edges smoothed by clouds.

Slowly twirling wind turbines march in lines over the hills.
Their smooth graceful lines make me taste imagined vertigo of a dream I had once:
clutching windmills,
or perhaps it was a book I read, or some carnival ride,
hanging on and trying not to vomit.

I will watch from an unheroic distance.
My coffee trembles in its
fragile paper cup.

I am relearning the art of contentment.
I am undoing the strings that slowly tug at my ribcage.
Being un-lonely when I am alone.
Un-craving solitude in crowded rooms.
Un-missing. Un-yearning.




I spent the weekend in Madrid. I planned the trip somewhat haphazardly at the last minute, to visit a fellow Fulbright friend. As it turns out, I picked the right weekend to go.

Without public education, a country without a future.

On Saturday there was a large manifestación, a protest against the deep cuts to the education budget here in Spain. Several of the teachers from my colegio came out from Alicante by bus, some bringing mothers or daughters, and I met up with them to walk from Atocha up to Sol – accompanied by over 68,000 teachers, parents, students, and other concerned individuals.

After leaving the protest, we passed the abandoned Madrid hotel that is currently “okupado.”

I have been following news regarding the Occupy Wall Street and other international protests, but only marginally and primarily in brief articles in Spanish. Personally, I don’t know if protests and encampments – especially without clear, reasonable objectives – are very effective vehicles of social change. Seeing the occupied hotel, it mostly seemed like an expression of frustration and a way to trade in mundane hardship for a shared adventure -though that is certainly appealing, it isn’t even possible for many people who are truly destitute, because they can’t afford a vacation from their responsibilities, no matter how well-intentioned. I just finished rereading Isabel Allende’s La Casa de los Espíritus, and there is a scene where Alba participates in a student occupation of a university building – but after a few days she gets sick and the adventure sours, and her socialist friends find out she is the privileged granddaughter of a conservative senator, when he comes to collect her in person and take her back to her cushy existence.

With that said, I certainly support anyone’s right to peacefully protest – and hearing reports of violence against protesters (at home or abroad) gets me riled up.

Anyway. Where was I?


Meanwhile, we stepped off our soapboxes to go on many Madrid adventures – food in a Mexican Restaurant. Buying cheap colorful tights and then leaving them in a different store. A surprise birthday party for a fellow Fulbrighter. Ethnic food and American whiskey. Tapas at El Tigre. Dancing in various Madrid locations. Chocolate con Churros. A trip to the Rastro where I finally broke down and bought a jacket.

Jack-o-Lantern, Spanish Style.

Borrowed coats & late nights.




El Rastro - The biggest flea market in Europe.

All too quickly I was back on the bus for a seemingly endless trip, the sky lighting up in electric purple over the dark landscape. Back in Alicante, as soon as I stepped off the bus I had to take off the jacket and scarf, even at 11pm. The mornings are getting more brisk here, but the sea air keeps the warmth in the air longer. I talked to another Fulbrighter this past weekend, living inland in Madrid after growing up in California. Even after such a short time living in Alicante, I could relate to the claustrophobia of Madrid, with walls everywhere, the endless subterranean descent into the metro tunnels, the press of people on all sides, purse crossed tightly across my chest.

Now I am grateful for the cooler breezes, and the clouds, and the occasional rain. I keep waiting in vain for the palm trees to change colors and lose their leaves… fronds?

Home sweet home.



3 Responses to The things I’d do to crunch leaves beneath my feet

  1. I agree with you on not being sure that protests and encampments are the most effective vehicles for social change, particularly long-term. When I first heard about all the occupy wall street stuff, it seemed to me that, though they had valid complaints, they weren’t pushing for any clear, measurable change (An end to corruption in the government? Making sure money no longer motivates politics? Good ideals, but I don’t see clear ideas of how they want that brought about and camping in public parks doesn’t seem to change it at all, really).

  2. Wendy Kennedy says:

    Sara- Your poem REALLY moved me! “I am undoing the strings that slowly tug at my ribcage”- seems God is doing a similar thing in me these days. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Chelsea says:

    all i can do is mumble, sounds.

    is that allende book available in english, or will i need to learn spanish first? 🙂 in terms of the occupy mvmts: i had a similar thought, tied to something clay had said about there being this huge scattering of protests throughout the US, and what do we really accomplish if we all gather in 23460897 places in each state? nothing. but, the truly destitute, like you said, can’t leave what little they have behind and go – whether it’s a job that pays for a roof over the heads of their kids, or a lack of transportation. i suppose it’s a consequence of expansion, industry, huge-ness, imperialism, whathaveyou. at the same time, i do think that solidarity (or a shared adventure) is empowering….and maybe we need to start from the ground up to nurture our weak voices – empowerment through shared adventure, and eventually we will be big enough and strong enough to join together (rather than hurrying to the nearest metropolitan area).

    and more goosebumps. will you please publish a book? if you don’t, i’m going to publish a saranthology. 🙂

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