Poetry & Stories
Home (Life in the Desert)
I sometimes wonder why I left that place. My home for so many years. Ages. Lifetimes. Now I find myself in modern times, suffering with the noises and the concrete and the metal and the dead. There is no life here -- it is nothing more than a parody of a life, a ritual of existence. The joy I once knew evades me. You have not truly experienced beauty unless you have lived in the desert.
The falcon sat on my arm, talons saved from my skin by the old, well-used leather glove I wore there. It had been my father's, and his father's as well, and I felt such a comfort in wearing it still that I left the new ones, constant gifts from others of this, my tribe, with my other possessions, or even gave them to my sons for their practice. We left camp (if you could call it that -- we lived wherever we pleased, when we pleased), several of us, and rode slowly out on leggy camels adorned with the most beautifully-made gear, embroidered in all the colors of this wondrous world. In bright, woven bags hanging to each side were small stores of dates and the milk of the camel. We each wore a falcon upon an arm, each falcon equally hooded in exquisite embroidery made by our wives. The asr* sun shone hotly, but, then, this was our world, and we were accustomed. It didn't seem so hot.
These weren't the shifting dunes you might imagine (those were nearby, yet another place, a distance, and another story), but a more hard-packed sandy dirt, peppered with tiny wild flowers and tiny green plants. The harsh and beautiful khalaa'* was for crossing, not for settling. Near our so-called camp were the herds of sheep and of camels, tethered and grazing at their leisure upon these small offerings from the ground. Several young boys sat or stood with watchful eyes, thobes* swaying in the occasional breeze.
On we rode, casual in stride, for we had nowhere to be and nobody awaiting our presence. An idea such as ''time'' was so unheard of as to not even be a ''foreign'' thought -- it simply didn't exist. And after some time (how much I cannot estimate), we stopped, dismounted and fettered our camels' legs, one front to the opposite back. Here there lived small desert animals free from the wariness that grows with human presence, and here we would have our hunt. Taking the hoods from the raptors' eyes, we unfettered them and off they flew, high, soaring into the blue, into the glare of the sun, and we watched them glide with such a freedom. I could feel the wind in my face as if I were behind those feathers and as if it were I up there flying the heavens with such abandon. Ahhh, what a feeling, soaring, stretching, wings wide. I become breathless.
They flew and looped and dipped and rose and, night-black eyes ever fixed to the ground below, they took their turns making their splitting dives and catching some hapless rodent or rabbit that happened to stir at the wrong moment. Once caught, we would confiscate the game and feed some fresh meat of the catch to these feathered hunters, keeping them wanting more, wanting not to fly off to utter freedom but to return to us for the next feeding, hunt after hunt after hunt.
After probably a long while, we hooded the shawaaheen*, tied their feet yet to the still-tethered camels, spread a blanket and made a small snack of the dates and milk. We talked and laughed and reclined there until the sun showed signs of dipping into the dusky horizon, so then, refreshed and rested, we gathered our things, unfettered the beasts and made our way back, swaying slowly in their rhythmic gait and passing small conversation between spells of contented silence.
Here were to be found our tents, dusty and well-used, and the stock gone to sleep with the setting of the sun. One or two boys stayed to watch that none strayed, the others returned. There some women had a fire going, coffee rich with cardamom* boiling into a froth and now poured into cups and passed around. I will never get over the smell of cardamom. It is, for me, the smell of home. Delivering the rabbits caught in the hunt into the hands of the women, we settled around the fire, drinking the coffee and enjoying the beauty of the night. Now the stars were beginning to shine, dusk fading into dark, and the air had the dry, crisp freshness that only the air there could have. My friend Faris* called for one of his sons to fetch his 'oud*, and, in a slow, wandering melody, welcomed the night with a song maybe as ancient as this world itself.
I am so glad I am here.
Now dinner is served, rabbit freshly roasted on the fire, a freshly slaughtered sheep also roasted, juicy and delicious. Elegant, pungent tea. More music. We heard the women off laughing, probably playing with each other's hair or painting glorious designs of henna on each other's hands. One by one, they came and joined us, sitting near to the fire in their own little group, and joined in the song. Coins and other lovely and beautiful silvery metals hung from their hair, from their ears, from their wrists and ankles, and seductive in their soft tinkling, they added their own joy to the music. Somewhere in the group was my own Tuemah*, my wonderful, beautiful wife. Somebody had a drum, skin taut around a wood frame, another something similar, and yet another a different kind, and the rhythms swelled and swayed and pulsed through my thoughts and through this whole world of mine.
Oh, I am so happy. I am so very happy here. I cannot imagine ever being any place else.
asr - afternoon shawaheen - falcons
khalaa' - desert cardamon - a pungent spice
thobe - long, robe-like item of clothing
'oud - a stringed instrument similar to a lute
Faris - a male name Tuemah - a female name
(Written in 1995)