Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


The Empty Quarter

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.

Credit


From The Invisible World by John Canaday, forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press in 2002. © Copyright 2001 by John Canaday. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Author


John Canaday

John Canaday has published poems in New England Review, The Paris

Date Published: 2002-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/empty-quarter