leaf-shadows cast on the shades
the night bus’ headlights
open on a Coran stand
notebook and pencils
three in the morning,
noise in the street, parch of thirst
glass of water, sleep
recedes as heart-beats,
decided jurors, pace in
with avid faces.
Bending down to gather the scattered Lego
Jan recalled a moment, another childhood,
scooping up a ball in a sunlit courtyard
before her name changed.
Who was she in consonants that her children
mispronounced, or did on the rare occasions
that they tried. Her grandmother used a pet name
Hidden child, perpetually a virgin,
learned to make love in an adopted language:
twelve years old, her mother tongue blushed though she her-
self was a mother.
… But in things
A zinc bucket with roses from last week
infused with sugar-water, fading fast.
The summer solstice is a fortnight past,
light on the cusp of evening is oblique.
A photocopied page in Arabic
graffitied with French/English pencil scrawl,
not a testimony, just a tale
that I can translate better than I speak.
Beside a blue placemat from Monoprix
Le Monde des Livres and the LRB,
an earthenware pitcher from Tripoli.
As in that shop bead-curtained from the street
the statement in a shaft of alien light
questions an object and its history.
Question an object and its history :
this dark red silk scarf, lightweight, lightly shirred,
whose tiny label says that it was made
in Halab. Ordinary luxury
to roam the ancient caravanserai
then everybody’s market, where I played
at haggling with a wisecracking, yes, almond-eyed
merchant of twenty whose job-skill was repartee,
and two girl students loitering near the stall
praised me for speaking Arabic at all.
You’ve read the same damn headlines. Ubi sunt
the multi-coloured silks, the girl students?
The fourteenth-century wooden arcades
burned first. The boy, what choice on fire, what words?