A Caliph's Camel

                                after the Caliph Ibn al-Mu 'tazz (murdered 908)

When the dawn is splashed with white like an old man's skull
I set out on my camel, full-blooded and freshly branded.
His ears resemble fronds on the naked palm
or the myrtle that towers high above the reeds
while his hoof is a downturned bowl,
black-rimmed as the inscription on a faience cup.

My stallion surpasses the aim of the widest eye.
He is quicker than water to race down polished hills.
He is quicker than heart-piercing thought
or the twisting eye-flickers of a man in doubt.

My Sherari camel is hellfire itself and he
blazes unceasingly, a tamarisk
of fire stoked by the winds of the Great Nafud.

He is a falcon trained to the rule
that pours out on the thick-gloved hand of the falconer
a harsh and plummeting lash of punishment.

My camel is swifter than the skeptic's look.
He tumbles the way rain tumbles into a well.
He is skittery like the glowering augur's eye
that glimpses phantoms in damp-clodded soil.

He flies like a man who is terrified
of his own desire
and yet who chases the torture of his desire.

He never flies except toward spilling blood.

He pierces the north.

He pierces the south.