After years of hard wandering, Samiira and I returned to the lake where we fell in love.
We were no longer as we were, but we fancied that the marsh-grass retained a double hollow
where we once lay together, cloud-spotting, fascinated by our laziness and laughing
at passers-by who said, ‘The wildlife here is day by day getting larger and stranger!’
Parts of the lake-trail were now overgrown, the bridge-pontoons sagging, their boards wet.
There were ruddy gouges filled with water and narrow dry ridges at path-edges to negotiate.
The winter grass was still yellow, and half the lake’s surface a chartreuse scum of algae.
Ducks as they paddled pushed it into soft folded piles like a rucked-up coverlet.
We stepped carefully down the muddy slope past slow-mo turtles, their shells
shiny tic-tac-toes of agate and hellodor, sunning with side-eyed reptile heads.
We were sensitive as heliotropes to all His signs, as to our moods and fancies,
Samiira’s eyes reflective colouramas. Hard green blackberry vines,
Puffy chocolate rushes, red-headed finches fluttering the bushes,
and out in the lake, the oily brown loop of an otter’s pelt gone sploosh.
We came to the rock-garden, where there were tiny pink anemones once
but now just thistles and dandelions spearing the cracked mud.
As the sky absorbs the lake, so now and then commingled in us.
Samiira’s beauty compels me to reject extravagant comparisons,
because her inner bint still shimmies, no need of adornment,
her smile often shifting from eager to shy, as before a kiss.
With damp held hands, we came to the pavilion where we were wed
but the cedar beams of the roof were no longer fragrant and had darkened.
A large crack split the cement pad on which we made our vows
in front of our old boon-companions, yet we still heard their wild huzzahs
as we faced them, zawj wa zawja, joined in His holy name.
Hands around our eyes for goggles, we peered in the Nature House’s windows.
The exhibits of birds’ nests, beehives and ant colonies remained behind glass
as did the table where we signed the marriage-deed, a jaunty stuffed raccoon
rearing on hind legs for a witness, but much had changed. The sign
NATURE HOUSE now read NATURE SUCKS sprayed with a lewd graffito.
An injudicious fire in a garbage can had blackened the front door, and there was trash
blowing across the path into the parking lot, where someone had abandoned a shopping cart
full of sodden bundles; something had given way, some supported commonweal,
and yet, though its sanctity was compromised, the Nature House was not ransacked,
its windows whole, perhaps because no one thought it contained anything valuable.
We huddled as though audience to our younger selves, unaware of where we’d end.
‘I am disheartened, sore of mind, to find the haunts of our young love so spoiled.
It makes you wonder.’ Samiira snorted and fixed her resolute eye upon me,
saying, ‘Ya ‘ayni, do not repine. It is common for we water-skins to pass through time
and suffer change and leakage. Face it determined, as one of our tribe might fix his gaze
on the horizon, though his camel be slack-skinned and blade-ribbed after days of riding.’
We remained in the pavilion until twilight had set invisible finches singing
their last taghrids against the glimmering west-lands and pricks of the first stars
began to pattern the sky like glitter on a dark cloak of Egyptian cotton.
‘Remember thou,’ she said, ‘when we lay at the open window at the family ranch
and smelled the smoke of forest fires, drifting, dissipating above the valley
and returning sage-spice wafted from the surrounding ring of hills,
while far above us, the milk of heaven spilled, to whorl and fill
our vision with the mansions and dimensions of His pleasure.
We were so effortlessly slap-happy, small and whole.’
‘I doubt we shall ever go back; such are the springing traps of fate.
But since I lack a kahin’s prescience, I’ll trade disappointment for amazement,
like the far-roaming jinn, who, whereupon reaching the zone
where once they were wont to see a flaming star, were twice delighted
to hear the generous Qur’an, streaming through space in elevated tone.’
‘High hope,’ I said, ‘to go where only those of smokeless fire may venture.’
‘Let us ride on, then, and tamp that amazement into new amusements.’
We stayed all night in that pavilion, sleeping shoulder to shoulder,
amid the splishes and splashes of river-rats in rustling reeds,
until the eastern sky promised and infused a paler azure.
‘Ya Samiira, the Prophet, peace and prayers be upon him,
said, “Seek knowledge, though it be in China.” We have travelled
to marvel at wisps of grass-calligraphy, to glimpse pagodas,
half-hid in pines on conical hills. We saw fireworks brighten
the mandarin-trees of Hainan Island; at Chichen Itza, we peered
into deep cenotes, and handclaps echoed squawk above a pyramid.
We’ve gawked at lively eyes in Raphaels; at profusely human Breughels…’
‘Funny,’ she said, ‘in that Viennese gallery I remember only how
the parquet floor squelched under all those visitors.’
‘Or in Istanbul blind Sinan’s domes on fire with Iznik tile…
the Creator expands our human hearts towards his inimitable art.’
‘Tourism!’ she said, ‘How romantic, yet we never went four hours
without coffee and a meal, while ancestors, far hardier, are buried
under sand with their sworn swords and the pillars of Iram.
While you’re at it, soft adventurer, don’t forget the outskirt factories.
The E-Z-Tread Carpet, The Tru-Foam Sofa, The U-Fill Storage-Cube.
All part of the crescive panoply of scaled invention.
We sought the vanity of ways to talk on paper,
certainly not strategies of being staid or richer.’
‘Wallah!’ I said. ‘When I see our friends now, those madcap youths
who’d smoke hashish and dance like dervishes to burn off the buzz,
who hopped across continents with all they owned on their backs,
now groaning under mortgages, clocks ticking towards pensions,
I have no apprehension about whatever winding sand-tracts
are ahead, restlessness our homestead, and Allah the great Unsettler.’
‘I just remembered. I didn’t see any swans. Did you?’ ‘None.’
We gathered our belongings, as the gulls grew raucous in the dawn,
and made our way beneath coal-bellied clouds that gathered, threatening,
but did not burst in ragged wands until we were far from Christmas Hill.