Let’s head back to Morocco
With a hopeful shoulder against
its thousand-year-old brother,
the new city already shows more rust
and abuse than the ancient medina,
which stands straighter than it should
after a millennium of fire and pirates
and the tearless tyrrany of
Mohammed’s intemperate sun.
Fifty years free of France,
the tall cosmopolis outside
the gates wears the fast
age of concrete and exhaust.
The new city wonders, still half
en Français and slouched
in café chairs that face out over
the bruise-blue taxis towards
the red medina walls, what is the
trick to timelessness, and what
do the buried civilizations
around the Bou Regreg have to say
about the way the Arabs
outlasted them all without
having to do much besides wait
and stay and sometimes fight.
Why is there so little left
of the Romans besides
the coins and shields of
martial ghosts that mingle with
Phoenician busts in museums that
the Berbers came before and
built and left and will see
the end of long before their own.
And those few exhumed slabs
of marble left at Chellah, bought
by the shipload for the price
of their own weight in sugar,
what are they worth now
in dirham or dollars or the
useless euros mocked in the
clacking laughter that rattles like
a call to prayer from the storks atop
the walls of the hammams, and
whose nests crown the minarets.
An angled Arab in a jellaba
as long as the Berber sun and with
tea-stained teeth the color of burnt sand,
stands unlooked at by foreign shoppers
because they all know that eye contact
is a contract that even a shy smile
cannot unbind. They see rugs, cheap jewelry.
The Arab tells a bowl of fish heads
here are more tourists. Another man
pulls a palm frond as bent as his back
over meat scraps, breadcrumbs, and poverty,
sweeping the King’s official decrees
and doubts of his Mohammedan descent
secretly beneath the dusty stones in the souk.
He stands and says bonjour to the kids
(the first guess is always for the French)
But the Americans say assalam
and the students and the Arab find
a few forgotten teeth to frame their
halfshared tongue. They eat the shopkeeper’s
small deceit in the heat of Moorish June.
The price of a dented teapot comes down quickly.
A cat mews and woos the noon-hot bowl
of fish heads but is sent running and spits
its hisses at a moped whose engine
ascends to match the unseen muezzin –
his patient call having made its pact with
the long-gowned crowd, reaching unlikely speeds
beneath thin streets and stubborn burqas.
Honey drips long, making bees too drunk to fly.
Under the new moon of Al-Andalus
white women weigh the lure of the beach
against what risk they know exists and try
not to be fooled by trust earned in the sun.
A dutiful and deep-eyed olive ibn
is scraping the caramel crust from abu’s table,
closing shop in time for one more prayer.