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Wednesday, 2 Mar 2011

This is the first poem I wrote in Libya. I wrote it after visiting the Roman ruins at Sabratha. There will be a photo when I can get the browser to work!

Sabratha is now being fought over. The most recent news was that it was in the hands of the forces for freedom.


The country of rumour is fertile.

Sprinklers shake like wands from irrigationpipes

Whirling magic circles over alfalfa,

Among orange groves and rows of olive

Far from the stretches of brittle sand.

It is a country held by a love or hope

Who never makes herself clear, who rises

Like the sun freckled with lilac cloud.

Later drizzle streaks our faces then lifts,

A rustle diminishing like sentences

Murmured, misunderstood, having only said

“Perhaps. Tomorrow. Why not?” while we look up

As if we’d heard “I’ve been waiting so long

For you to speak.” But we are dazzled

By silent light pouring down on power lines,

Cool villages, their ridges of husbandry,

Their horses hobbled to a grazing patch.

Few messages arrive and if they do

Are handed to us in the dark with nudges.

All the letters have the date “If it were

The twentieth of June” and from them falls

A scent of meaning in a writing yellow

As mimosa. Our envelopes contain

Lint which wrapped a confiscated gift.

More news is got from ruins near the sea

Where the amphitheatre accepts signals

From the stars like a radio telescope.

On its columns the conqueror’s script

Has all but been erased by visitors,

By lovers who scrawl forbidden likenesses

Of friends in charcoal, by the devotee

Muttering “Allah, Allah” in the forum.

Here statues of lions are pocked with salt

And could be slinking back to their first form

Or becoming clearer, a honed savagery.

Here there is no shape for the future

And the past is used circumspectly

For a killing or an accident.

Galleys from Rome havecome and disembarked

To sow the ground of Carthage withbitterness.

Submarines will dive for the last time

Leaving a radioactive sadness.

But the word of God is ever present.

It sobs from minarets five times a day

Inland from a sea which feeds quietly,

A lean blue lion munching upon stone.

Maps have never been drawn for the country

Of rumour. Compass needles refuse

To point. They curl like worms beneath theglass.

Only the scarab beetle’s path traces

A track in dust wider than a finger,

Only a butterfly fans wings patterned

Like a river delta, only ants arched

Like ballet dancers have horizons

Definitive as a mountain range.

In the country of rumour we lose our names.

In our passports photographs discolour

To sepia showing the forehead,

Whiskers and frockcoats of ancestors.

Our identity cards have signatures

Which run to liquid and read backwards.

Our hands have palms whose lines are smoothedaway.

We show them to policemen as proof

Of innocence and to each other

Whispering “Are you French? Are you English?

Are you Czech? Are you Italian? Are you ---?”

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