I have no idea what is coming
as I take the hand of a perfect stranger
as I’m taken through the streets of Marrakech.
The exhilaration of trust.
The exhilaration of risk,
of balance –
of balancing on the back of his Vespa like a teenage lover,
my hands gathering his jacket at the waist,
learning how to give round corners,
forgetting the crush of traffic from nine directions,
forgetting the chaos at crossroads,
my cheek now on his back,
the disinterested city
open before us,
passing me by.
We loop away from the Djemaa el Fna,
we loop away from snake-charmers, pet monkeys, jugglers,
beggars, fortune-tellers, water-sellers,
tagines and harira and brochettes,
from strings of white light-bulbs,
from the scent of burnt charcoal
burning the night up all night long,
we loop away from the slipper souk and the silver souk,
from the Koutoubia Mosque,
from the Kasbah Mosque and the El Mansour Mosque,
from the palaces, all the palaces,
from the medina which now I will never walk through,
from the gardens closed for the night.
We loop away from that one huge bud of hibiscus –
madder red, almost cerise –
that is, at this minute, coming full into bloom,
opening its impossibly crimson throat wide open,
now, in the dark, before midnight, exactly,
that one hibiscus bloom,
the one I could have gazed at, gazed into,
eye to eye
drinking in its throat,
its scarlet throat,
its stigma and stamens just risen,
pushing from the petals,
out of the petals into the night,
vulnerable and slender and scarlet,
the anthers swollen, dusted yellow with pollen.
That one hibiscus blooming in a garden
I will now neither visit nor know
– while I weave through traffic with a stranger,
our words swept up by the wind
and thrown off into the night.
I am balancing.
I am laughing.
I am lost in the suburbs of Marrakech.
The city is a tent.
The city is a rose tent.
The low rose buildings pleated together,
the castellated walls smoothed out of mud,
the wide boulevards spinning off into the desert,
streetlights painting the rose walls
with slashes of amber and bronze,
high up, threading the boulevards,
spinning them into the night, into the desert.
We are camping in the desert.
In a desert scented with orange-blossoms,
with the first flush, the young flush of the earliest jasmine,
with date palms to guide us,
with date palms pushing up higher
than the rose-coloured buildings,
higher than the haze of charcoal and spiced food,
their huge crowns crowning Marrakech,
their stately crowns swaying in the breeze
that shifts down from the mountains.
And we sway through the city, bending and circling,
passing all these people I will never greet –
the men in white shirts talking on corners,
the women in djellabas going home with the shopping,
the women in djellabas riding on mopeds,
headscarves like banners
streaming behind them,
four boys in an alley playing football
with a football with a puncture,
and the old man in the kiosk
where he picks up the key,
while I straddle the moped
shifting warm metal from right thigh to left thigh,
absorbing the glances,
the half-curious glances,
shot at a white woman in this end of town.
Not much further.
The rose buildings are concrete, closer together.
We lift the bike up under the stairs
then climb them in darkness,
hand in hand, feeling the walls,
right up to the roof
to a room loaned for the night;
a room with a mattress and a candle and a radio
(a radio which, in Arabic then French,
will murmur of disasters just out of my grasp).
When he leaves me to piss
I go to the window
to map out this journey, to find Marrakech,
and I pull back the shutters,
the stiff slatted shutters –
and there, between the slats and the glass,
balanced on less than one inch of sill,
is a bird’s nest.
A bird’s nest woven of a filigree of fine straw
and small curled grey feathers,
with two eggs,
two cream and brown-speckled eggs,
nestled together in the cup of the nest,
warm and oval and whole.
I watch these eggs until I know them.
I watch the lights of Marrakech
high above the buildings rise up to the stars.
I watch Marrakech
through this dusty windowpane,
through a window with a crescent of glass
snapped off at the root.
Then I close my eyes
and ease back the shutters.
I return to a room I will never return to
and I kneel on the mattress.
All night the radio loses the station
to a whisper of static,
the soft cry of crossed songs.
One lopsided, scorched-brown bloom
then refusal on the kitchen windowsill.
Symmetrical and silent, the glossy pools
of leaves bisected into light and shade,
the nubbed buds stubborn,
green as leaves, crouching in the foliage.
Faking patience, the north light is
luminous, whitening as the spring comes on.
Once I turn my back, the flowers untwist
in hours, fattening with odour,
with the heady heat of flawless whiteness.
The carved, curved geometry of the blooms
more lucid than hallucination.
As simple, as thoughtless as a bruise.