Mary Noonan

The Fado House of Argentina Santos

The women here are of a certain age
               their doubles hang in black and white
on the walls – photos showing
              the wailing women of 1930s Lisbon
hair set in bird’s nests, eyebrows


The ancient doyenne, queen of the fadistas
              sits in her lair by the door
a hawk in navy blue.
               From a serving-hatch framed in azulejo
her elder sister peers. Faithful retainer
             in black and broderie anglaise


her task is to fix lace doilies
             in bread baskets. And spy. Not a word
passes between her and the others –
             middle-aged meninas spilling
from worn needlepoint bibs, pinned in
             by tight bows at the waist. Nightly


           they dance


their angry fandango on fallen arches and varicose veins
             battling, in the time between fados,
to get tubs of bacalhau down to the trestles
             where the drunken tourists wait.


On the half-hour, lights are flicked off,
              a silver-haired fadista steps from the shadows.
Cradling herself in a fringed shawl,
               she opens her throat and ululates
in broken tremolo for the old dreams, for Lisboa


              for what was lost.


And her frilled serving-sisters stomp
             the dough-white flesh of their calves
and scowl.
              And Argentina Santos watches from the door.

Mary Noonan
“The Fado House of Argentina Santos” first appeared in Tears in the Fence, Number 53, Summer 2011.