Ravines Deep and Near
I wrote a shell of this poem the night before arriving in Marrakesh, and have been intermittently refining it ever since.
Ravines Deep and Near
who should have been a pillar of salt
never before have prison bars looked so welcoming
learn and laugh on the hill
and may I be a portion for the lowest creatures of the earth before any part of my past leaves me
and so I should have been a pillar of salt.
She dared look back on the fires of the cities of the plain
look back on the screams
look back on the sinful drowning in their own tears
look back on what was home before corruption
and so she became a pillar of salt.
Can you hear the song?
Can you hear the plaintive voice mourning ships departing the familiar coast?
Can you hear the deep bass chords of the piano?
Just like the crows circling over a decaying cadaver
Just like clouds forming over the damned
Relinquish the rains, flood over-
What is the value of the simple comfort of a firm armchair before the luxury of a stoked fireplace?
Or even more the same chair with an open door to the scent of April rains?
Can you denominate the familiar?
Welcome to the inland shores of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun
Look down on a city that stood even after Alaric burned Rome
The language of conquerors may still have been heard until a new wave came years later
and columns still stand even after the tyrant razed what remained for his walls.
Mosaic tiles repose on the dry earth
Christian voices still echo in the wasted basilica
Amazight rumor still lingers in the bathhouse
Intimate whispers still rest in the bedrooms
a conqueror's chariot trumpets a firm rhythm into the everlasting dark and quiet
"This also was one of the dark places of the earth."
But not for centuries.
no, I am tardy
The days of explorers legendary and distorted coastlines with chassis of myth
the days of disparity-conscious strangers with steamer trunks far from European post
the days of junkies and writers and burnouts and revolutionaries
What our grandparents read about as istiqlal will be to our children as the fore are to us
Can you hear the silver trumpets?
Can you perceive the saint's cry at the assassin's blade?
Two cities of foreign peoples rise into the sky, merged at the mausoleum
Did raiders ever surround the towers?
Did flames ever encircle the city?
No historian could tell.
Then on, my vision obscured by profuse and endless fog, to the south.
From parched plains the mountains rise.
In Imlil entirely concealed by incessant mist
Here, a hint of the future, only two months away?
Or something I can reach back and try to feel
but be left empty-handed with only a slight dew on my fingers?
Breathe fresh mountain air
Breathe the sweet morning frost and burning wood
This seems so tangible, but is it just a hope?
That I have resisted being a whore is troublesome for some
When in their purest and most refined state as penned
I clutch to my breast, guard closely, my words
even if spoken they are free
a record I leave will be honest and non-spontaneous
Do not forgive me, you at the end of a sharpened spear:
my words are carefully chosen.
Could I only say the same for all else.
Lower, drier valleys await.
Above Douar Sgoura the ridge is weathered and I hear a tale of acacias
where the fires of industry and the wheels of progress trample all underfoot
where men dismantle the past for their own ambition
Where is safe?
encircled by a fence or cacti
in close proximity to marble
above the silent
While its brothers fade from memory and sight
Some specimens still survive
like ferns and thorns in Gibson County
In the times since I left, shells of barns were razed.
Before I was born, the homestead burned.
In the times before I left, two progeny cleared at dubious intervals mud and trees and weeds.
In the times before I left, growing cold with seasons' wane, we remembered.
Plat maps say this is no longer your house.
Still we stand.
Surely, the names and dates wear thin.
The gate is rusted and broken.
The coulee passes hay bales and centuries-old roots.
I will try to be faithful.
Nearer home, the same forgetfulness will soon take hold
Wherefore Uhlhorn and Dresden?
Who named Cedar Hall and Kasson?
Perhaps the sunset will answer my questions.
Alternating with hue-tinged clouds and flaming sky
searing red strata over red rocks aid me, and there is me
perhaps seeing a fall line
around that weathered and eroded escarpment
valleys and sierras stretch beyond the vision of my tired eyes
and ravines beneath me fall deep and near.