memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

The Flowers of Doom


The 5th March here in Portugal marked the 10th anniversary of the tragic collapse of the central span of a bridge over the river Douro at Castello de Paiva. A coach and two cars, which were passing over the bridge, fell into the swollen river and were swept away; out of 70 people killed only two bodies were recovered. When I discovered the reason  for the passengers’ presence on the coach – they were returning from annual day-trip to view the almond trees in blossom in the upper-Douro – I thought it was so poignant that I was moved to record the event with the following (inadequate) words:


They went on a coach to view
The almond trees in bloom
You know, just a day-trip
To see the flowers of doom.

Hurry up Mum, we’re late
And Johnny, get your bag;
So tired! But it’s worth it
Always a nice little outing.

A concrete pillar eroded
By time and neglect
You know how it is – things,
Just waiting to happen.

Where’s Maria, not here?
She couldn’t come, sore throat
Poor little thing, but Aunty’s
Coming instead and pronto.

Over the river so high
Brown and swirling and
Angry and fierce, riding
Down to the Mouth.

So off we go, winding up
The brown Douro river
To Tras-os-Montes to see
The amendoeiras in flower.

A fierce swollen river
As later we’ll learn,
Three meters-per-second
And a bed full of junk.

A good day is had by all
Despite the bad weather.
The flowers look nice and
At least we’re together.

Down the cruel river
Past Freixo floating
And Foz knew them too
To the ocean’s deep swell.

Though the sky’s really grey
Hardly anyone moans;
We sit in the café and play
With our mobile phones.

Those currents moving
By Gulf Stream you know
Far out and swing back
To Cape Finnistere

Time for home now.
Work tomorrow
Doctor’s on Thursday
And the loan from the bank
And Silvia’s new boyfriend
And that pain in my side
And how rude she was
And that look he gave me
And the clothes must be dry
And feeling sleepy
And nearly home
And that look
And Sleep

Terror oh God
Pain oh Jesus
Water oh mother

                Forgive me Our Lady of the Flowers                                                                                     For I was lost in the Palace of Sorrows

High in the Douro valley
The almonds blossom still
With a cold, white beauty
The flowers of doom.

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