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.

2016 (Asking After Your Brothers)

Questions…

They say in the aftermath 
	the evil’s come out
but the evil out there 
	lives in their mouths.

So it’s something to look around
face to face, hue to hue
listen to someone being accused
	...and know...
	...and know...
the opposite’s true.

I think you dig me, Mr. Hughes

And when you said you -
a Kentuckian -
were brothers with an African
that was fine  

and I mean that the good way you would mean it
back in your place and time,
not sarcastic like we do in mine.

But I wondered (this one's harder
	...I know...
	...I know...)
could you have reached your other brotherhand
to secure a little kinship
with a white man?

Talk about fine!

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.

The Final Bone

Earlier is better.

You can read the cold
in the austerity of porchlights
and the white soul of maple bark
that makes a shy shiver
when it guesses which star
might love it back.

But I am all halogen high beams
in this poor morning.
The final bone of an unwelcome skeleton
that won’t leave its ghost alone.

And here in the city –
with none of the long-sung
undone thunder of somewhere
less given to the living –
I am stung by lone red lights
and the odd mid-block walker
made bold by the madness
of his addictions.

Still.
He moves on.
I do all the stopping.

Yes

Don’t look back

God has taken from us the sun, 
which loving was too much like firefly July, 
watching our brother kiss the girl 
we were too little to love 
but loved! 
with cloying loyalty anyway.

A name in a notebook 
and the little electric leavings 
	of her path across our sky.

But must we just go sunless sad, 
wearing moods like wet vestments 
at a mirthless service? 

		No!
 
We kick wet leaves 
on the cooling coals of long November
and hoist such a hard, proud December 
that our summerlost girl 
- hand still in rival’s hand - 
turns in a wistful flourish 
to look back once upon us 
and wish that she 
were half so free 
as we.

Why the Gods Stopped Answering

On being careful what you wish for.

In a year that started with three months of march
the gods of the globe met a girl on a Hill,
fit with ambition and requests for the rights
of all of the people to be equally filled.

Great Zeus consulted the God of Abraham
and Mohammed added a surah or two.
Buddha nodded his silent approval
and Brahma saw it the right thing to do.

The wish was granted, her prayers were answered
and equality had been wholly ordained.
But the protester gathered her high-lettered signs
and marched, in her hat, right back out again.

Zeus looked at God and said “What’s this about?”
while angry Mohammed drew out his blade.
Buddha sat down and Om’d ‘til he shook,
Brahma wondered what mistake they had made.

The young woman said you’ve all done so well
in answering my prayers and granting my wish.
but by making my purpose so neatly complete
you’ve presented my hunger a cold, empty dish.

They watched her smartly set out for the heart
of the love that only they could create.
With a burgeoning army she chanted and marched
‘til she raised a new devil from an angelic state.

So Zeus and the God of Abraham shrugged.
Mohammed’s scimitar furrowed the dirt.
Buddha looked to have tuned it all out,
and Brahma just picked at a stain on his shirt.

Bodily Functions

I’ll skip the meth.

This one. This one, this one, this one. I have stanzas and half-stanzas and semi-stanzas and absolute brain farts all over the page on either side of this one. Gerard has an essay titled The Arrival in which he talks about not only the work involved in really writing a poem, but the way a writer can be consumed by it. The way it works and more importantly the way it doesn’t work. The fact that you cannot, as he says “pound out “Howl” in a weekend on a diet of meth.” In other words, it takes a while.

I have a few that went that way. Cavity is one. Cut is another, so is The Whole Sky, All at Once. Tons of time poured into those, and they all still need work (Cavity in particular is a weird experimental thing that I almost hate). The one I’m putting up here today is just one stanza that looked complete in the middle of a general muddle, and I have to post it just so I can break its hold for a minute and get up out of this chair.

Worship

God has taken from us the sun
which loving was too much like firefly July,
watching our brother kiss the girl
we knew we were too little to love
but loved with cloying loyalty anyway.
A name in a notebook
and the little electric leavings
of her path across our sky.

Noondark Dreaming

Too early to eulogize Autumn?

Sometimes I’m somewhere – Jesus,
it’s no poet’s dream!
A street decayingly toothed with slouched houses
dirty cars and trash bins
(every day is collection day)
where muckfoot gutters suck shoes to the potholed road
in the scum-slurry brown of Autumn’s
rape-shortened honeymoon.

(Winter you shrill beast, you crook, you tyrant!
Making the robes of three seasons’ bounty
cower and tremble dead to earth
before the world can limp naked
and embarrassed into your icy bed!)

Sometimes I’m somewhere – Jesus,
yes, no dream of mine!
A street wearing hard a century’s neglect
and the slop-rotten offerings of a
beaten world’s winter-tithe
all swamped under noondark and I think
thank God I’m a poet.

This is beautiful.

Frozen Stories

Midwestern Memories

Frozen Stories

Midwestern winters ask kids to make
a risky reckoning best left to the wise,
standing at the edge of a snowdusty pond

and measuring its slab of ice against
the way the weather’s been and how long
and daring (or not) to step out onto it.

But this is Northwest February and
I barely get to speak of ice at all out here,
or hear tales of boys fallen through

over the years and how once you’re under
the black water moves to hide the hole you made.
I barely get to speak of ice out here

or worry that a spot of skin’s gone white.
The weather asks so little of me
that I have to beg memory to list

wispy words and show hung pictures
of winterfear. But memory’s different
from knowing like guessing’s different

from fearing and I know that if I ever
do get to speak of ice out here
it’ll be so whisperthin that every one

of mom’s drowning boys would have
measured it beneath them to even try.
They would just walk around the sound,

well trained by a place where
the weather asks so much of them
and the ice is always on their tongues.