COIMBRA: a psychogeography by Cristina Legarda

COIMBRA: a psychogeography

Cristina Legarda


The guys behind the pastry case at Batikanos
will let you pee in peace – no coin,
no banheiro exclusivo para clientes.
It’s live and let live in these unpretentious places.

            -Bacalhau à lagareiro
            -Bacalhau à casa
            -Peixes frescos
            -Picanha na brasa
            -Naco da vitela
            -Medalhões de porco
            -Grelhado misto
            Almoço e jantar

The rain is torrential.

Scavenger hunt. See if you can find
a bright red church organ. A saint
holding a book. Azulejos depicting
a winged demon with hooves. A secret door
(they’re everywhere here). A bronze caravel.
Orange trees near a yellow monstrosity.
A flautist. Two typewriters side by side.
Nihilistic graffiti. A cross-eyed Madonna.
The sun.

Eight hundred years ago five Franciscans
stopped at the monastery of Santa Cruz
on their way to Morocco, no sandals
on their feet, but joy on their faces.

Father Fernando, in charge of hospitality,
welcomed them as they passed through.
Consciousness of his own comfort and ease –
– thinned his blood to water.
It was Genesis – Et aperti sunt oculi ejus;
cumque cognovisset eum nudum esse.

Fernando welcomed them again
when their beheaded remains returned.

The water in his heart turned to wine,
the wine to blood, a sacrament within
as he prepared their broken bodies –
eucharist – for the procession back to Assisi.

Fernando left Coimbra, joined their order,
changed his name, preached to the fish
in Rimini, spoke to the Baby Jesus
in Limoges, and now we pray to him,
Saint Anthony, when we lose our keys.

In front of the old cathedral:
Em cada esquina um gatilho

Everything is uphill.

Nuns with too many egg yolks leftover
from starching their habits with whites
created pastéis de natas, ovos moles,
filhos, rabanadas, castanhas de ovo

A basket of eggs to the convent of Santa Clara
brings good weather to the giver.

At Santa Clara Inés de Castro gave birth.
At Santa Clara Inés de Castro was murdered.
Inés de Castro fell in love at first sight
and died a martyr for that love.

On an awning in town: “The world needs nata.”
Bad natas are better than no natas at all.

Egg yolks, sugar, paper-thin pastry dough,
more sugar, cream, egg yolks, egg yolks.
With these, even mediocridade
is better than nada.

As far away as Goa and the Philippines
women bring baskets of eggs to Santa Clara
hoping for sunshine for their wedding days.

Inés de Castro married in secret.


There were latrines as well as chamber pots
in the University’s Academic Prison,
moved to the library bowels in 1773.
Skipping class, cheating, and reading
forbidden books could condemn
a man to a confinement of weeks.
Students were escorted to class
and still had to turn in their work.

            Vous pouvez prendre notre photo?
            Merci bien!

The students’ enthusiasm is catching.
Over the Mondego River, blue skies.

                        A caravana
                        está a chegar.

In the order of Chiroptera
Acerodon jubatus
is largest,
its outstretched wings spanning
five feet or more. At the tiny end,
past Nyctalus lasiopterus
and the phyllostomidae, and Europe’s
Myotis myotis
, are the microbats.
Crepuscular Pipistrellus pipistrellus
protects the books of the Biblioteca Joanina,
eating midges, moths, and gnats
in the library at night, dropping guano
on covered hardwood tables.
These flittermice are oblivious guardians,
no idea they’re shitting over Dionysius
and Homer. Students screw each other
in the dorms, or cram for their orals.
Egg yolks and sugar are beaten together.
The red organ sleeps. Books vibrate like souls
on the shelves, as if trying their own echolocation
in the dark library. If you close your eyes
you can feel them, that stirring in your chest.

About the Author

Cristina Legarda was born in the Philippines and spent her early childhood there before moving to Bethesda, Maryland. She is now a practicing physician in Boston. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in America magazine, The Dewdrop, Plainsongs, FOLIO, HeartWood, Ruminate, Smartish Pace, The Good Life Review, and others.