The Empty Quarter - Poem by John Canaday
In early spring, here in the Rub 'al Khali,
Gabriel swings his goad over the humped backs
of swollen clouds. They roar like angry camels
and thunder toward the fields of the fellahin.
At night, I dream of grass so green it speaks.
But at noon, even the dry chatter of djinn
leaves the wadis. The sun lowers its bucket,
though my body is the only well for miles.
A dropped stone calls back from the bottom
with the voice of a starving locust: Make it
your wish, habibi, and the rain will walk
over the dry hills of your eyes on tiptoes
as the poppies weave themselves into a robe
to mantle the broad shoulders of the desert.
The words uncoil like smoke from a smothered fire,
rising leisurely out of me as though to mark
where a castaway has come aground at last.
And yet I have not spoken. My voice limps
on old bones, its legs too dry and brittle
to leap like a barking locust into song.
But I imagine what was said or might
be said by some collective throat about
the plowman loving best the raw, turned earth,
or the caliph longing for his desert lodge,
where ghoulem whisper like the wind at prayer,
and poppies bow their gaudy heads toward Mecca,
each one mumbling a different word for dust.
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