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.
THECOUNTRY OF RUMOUR
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 ---?”