Rabat

Let’s head back to Morocco

Old and New

 

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
(يا الله)
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.

The Street Sweeper

One more for Morocco

 

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.

Moon-Cooled

Don’t get lost! But do!

Here’s another for the Morocco collection (sum total now 2 complete pieces, but a few more in draft form). Allison wrote a beautiful poem about Morocco and published it yesterday. Something she rarely does. I say only this about that: the first time you click that “submit” button is the by far the hardest. After that it’s just another thing that you do. Much like reading poems to an audience. The first time was brutal. The next couple were easier, and now that I have a few more that I’m comfortable with, I’ll pop out sometime soon and use them in an open mic somewhere.

You’ll read in Allison’s poem the impact that Morocco made on her, emotionally and spiritually and personally. I cannot say otherwise for myself. Something about my time there went far deeper than research, than mere information and entertainment and box-checking. And while much of that can be attributed to the country, the people, and our hosts, certainly as much comes from the fact that I did not enter Morocco defensively or skeptically. As I do at home with my family, I gave myself to Morocco, accepted it and processed it, and did not begrudge it for its eccentricities or the many moments of hesitation it presented. HAd I done otherwise, I culd not have written this poem, my first ever villanelle:

IMG_2978

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But First

Love, lead me through Moroccan streets
where the city burns behind its walls
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet

that gilds the dates on every tree
and lights my throat’s mosaic halls.
Love, lead me through Moroccan streets

to where my shadow squats beneath my feet
when the muezzin melts the merchants’ stalls
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet

that clings to bees on lacquered sweets
whose nectar drips a torpid crawl.
Love, lead me through Moroccan streets

to where old men call through Berber teeth
while the Moorish sun burns over all
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet.

I’ve come to meet the Amazigh!
I’ve come to climb the Atlas wall!
But first, love, lead me through Moroccan streets
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet.