The Lisbon Quintet – Five Sonnets

1. Bedside prayer, or, burial instructions

If I should die before I wake —
Oh, never mind. My soul will know
Exactly what to do when darkness
Envelops me and she is freed and free.

Stuff my mortal remains, whatever’s left
Of me, in a weighted wooden coffin
Like the ones we kept in stock overseas
In abandoned embassy warehouses.
Put me on a Navy warship – bury me

At sea just beyond the 12-mile limit –
In international waters – let me sink
Silently, peacefully to the bottom,
Where lost shipmates are still on patrol,
And my ancestors await my return.

2. Disengaging the mind from work

Each night I dream of projects I complete,
Mainly ideas I’ve been thinking about
For weeks. And I awaken each morning
Feeling accomplishment & exhaustion.

No way to spend an August vacation,
I know. But today my outlaws have planned
A special lunch – Guinea-Bissau cuisine –
My favorite – and I can hardly wait!

We’ll save the nautical museum (I love
The ancient navigation instruments),
My favorite Belem bakery, &
The modern art museum for tomorrow

Or another day, any other day –
We can’t ignore a long-lost appetite.

3. Coffee with Pessoa at Martinho on the Praca

I write no more of love, the tales of woe,
Of romance that quickens a calm spirit –
Such stories that are songs of young and sweet
Naïveté- of passions’ fires aglow.

Today’s news crowds out former pleasant thoughts:
An earthquake, a mudslide kills the many;
A terror attack, abroad, at home, slays
The few and darkens the skies around us
With clouds of hate and unscaled walls of fear.

Let’s love today, each other, without shame
Or fear of censure, once more returning,
Once more forgiving acts of carelessness,
Mistakes we’ve made. Let’s journey while the sun
Is high and skies are clear and steps still firm.

4. Acknowledging the Muse – Pre-Eclipse

I think of you as my defacto Muse,
And I yours, at least until you tell me
we are not, or cannot be, or simply
just reject that source of inspiration

Our inner poets crave. The obstacles
Between us are many. The boundaries
That separate us are natural ones,
Neither fraudulent nor fake nor contrived –

It will be far easier to let things
Rest as they are, in peace and sanity,
And in denial. I would dare not blame
You or me, and life would just continue

As if our paths had never crossed, as if
This possibility had never been.

5. Watching photos of the total eclipse on the internet

Somewhere in the comings and the goings
I lost a day, or gained one, by my count –
Then I missed the total eclipse (but that
Had less to do with the time warp I’m in
and more to do with decisions I’ve made)
Because I was on the wrong continent.

I figured out it’s Monday. Tomorrow
Will be museum day – it’s all a matter
Of degree of intermediation
In the end, of what must be done to cure
The writer’s block that gets generated
By one’s own inhibitions. It’s taken
A week of full immersion to discard
Mine and let language flood these winding streets.


p.s. Some photos here

Author: Raymond Maxwell Librarian, archivist, retired foreign service officer and Navy veteran.

2 thoughts on “The Lisbon Quintet – Five Sonnets”

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