Reaching Nod

The wind has cursed us while we’ve mounted;
the sun has sucked the rains from every leaf.
The sand has smothered everything we’ve counted;
heat has wrung us out without relief.
We’ve gathered up our memories, kin, belief

and ridden towards the shimmering vague horizon
to catch our clouds that God himself has scattered,
to where the killing eye now rises on
the pilgrims to the green, begrimed and battered,
kings of sweat and lands that never mattered.

Cast out, adrift, we labour through the sand.
The weaker of two powers, we ride. Cast out:
zealous fire burns behind us in the hand
catastrophe has stripped of any doubt.
To Nod we ride in the panic of a rout.

We seek the dark oasis and its mercy;
its trees to give us shelter, give us fruit,
and arriving in the haze, our beasts all curtsey,
weary of the way, parched and mute,
unaccustomed to the traffic of Beirut.

Disaster drove us from each farm and village
as once drought drove us to the vagrant rain.
And then as now, no land to hold for tillage:
we’re just the city’s memory of pain;
the yellow of a smoker's finger-stain.

The clouds are always far enough and wander
through the vista of the camp we call our homes;
occasionally it shakes with claps of thunder
and mocks the weary traveller as he roams
the quartier where you find the gastronomes.

The black and white that forms the early dawn
— A keffiyah’s mix of in-between two states —
is when our eyes arise; when a child is born
between the dark and light, and re-creates
the hope that ties together all our fates.

We watch the skies in case of new disaster,
when sands can come to drive us further on.
For nature, like the wolf’s a fickle master,
and guarded lambs are quickly snatched and gone.
Safe journey through this world’s an eidolon.

Nigel Holt

If you have any comments on this poem, Nigel Holt would be pleased to hear them.

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