Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Something a little different from 25 years ago

On a dank December night I thought I'd warm myself up by looking again at stuff I wrote back in the early eighties while working thousands of miles away from my family in the Saudi port of Yanbu . Hot sunshine, dust, warm nights, scruffy surroundings and Arab culture. Glorious empty beaches. I thought I'd change the colour of the text to match the sky.

On the road from Jeddah to Yanbu

Police car flashing ahead
Guarding a dead
Body lying across the middle
Of the village street
Covered in a white sheet
Except for one bare foot

Around the ankle a cut
Red but no blood coming out
The heel of the foot looks cracked and old

Under such burning sun
How can the body grow cold?

A few robed figures look on
No sound of rage or lamentation

I ease by
Then accelerate to full speed
Remembering mostly
The whiteness of the shroud
Holding the stillness
Of the brown foot on the ground

My first evening in Yanbu al Bahar

In downtown Yanbu
We sat in the square
Drinking coke from the bottle
On rickety chairs

We sat in the square
With rubbish all around
Rubble and reinforcing rods
Mangled on the ground
The reek of the hookah pipes
Fouling the air
Reducing the smokers
To a vacant stare

Downtown Yanbu was
Where it's all at

You bent down and greeted
An elegant stray cat

As wild eyed waiters
In Yemeni skirts
Plied the tables
And trampled the dirt
Yelling out orders
In raucous voice

I would think I was crazy
If I had a choice
To be facing such squalor
In the balmy night air

Only the well paid
Stay in Yanbu Sur Mer


First sunlight shatters gold across the sky
Warm mists enfold the crumples
Of giant Radwan's fists
Rough knuckles rapping softly on the town
Tall at our backs he stands
Black glacier in a lake of sand
A crenellated block blown from a sea
Whose silver treasures scintillate the eye
Conceal the teeth that tear intruders down


How cool this air of autumn seems
Compared to molten summer
The breezes balmy now
That stifled breath and violated skin
No longer haste to shrink back into shade
Closed doors and windows, dead conditioned state

Now we can live, now
Gentle loitering hours
Hold charm in this neap season
Restful sleep with windows wide at night
Release for those
Imprisoned by the heat

All alone in the shallows at the Creek

Turning in shallow waters
Not watching, not waiting
Weightless undulating

An end is beginning

Now, unthinking
The sea bird calls

Sun's hand deepening
Under skin

Wonder full mind
Smoothed through sleep

From here
A hundred thousand miles
In only a moment's
Reflection of light
The shore extends

I am the water, the waves, the wind
Intoning a music
No other voice can sing

Local life

Closed shuffling world
Shuttered houses
Keep out the light

Black shapes
Furtive eyes
Keep out of sight

I am the lord and master
Of this house
Pride puffs me up
Like a rotting cat
Inside the maggots
Ignorance and fear
Gorge in darkness

My wife, a simple soul
A slave
Accepts all that
Ashamed to show
Her honest face
In the back
Of my brand new
Air conditioned


There's nothing beautiful in Yanbu al Bahar
That I can tell
Except for the neat horizon of the sea
Between there and me
A jumble of half finished buildings and rubble strewn gaps
A jaggle of concrete and reinforcing rods
Rooftops bristling with uneven crew-cuts
Finished blocks with no windows in
Gardens of dirt

Today is Friday and a sparrow chirps above my balcony
An evening breeze strolls over the scruffy city
Lifting a lazy polythene bag or two
Effortlessly to the skies

Away they sail like liberated souls
Till suddenly over the tarmaced acres of the port
They die, never to reach the sea
Except, with luck, on all fours crawling
At last gasp
Like all the other bits of plastic and paper
And even the odd tin can, blessed with a fortuitous throw and unhindered roll
They drop
Down into the living coral brine

In Yanbu al Bahar the magic of evening time
Billows warm breezes through open doors
Onto sunstained skin
From pale and naked skies
Ruffling the only trees
Huddled in protective frames
At intervals between the cars
Watered once a week, if they don't forget
By two men and the water truck

With luck they may survive a year or two
And then become the victims of some accident
Between a Chevy and a Datsun pick up truck
The trees, I mean
Or perhaps not

Thinking of home

In a room completely mine
Eyes curve
Cascading on the sudden fountain leaves
Of spider plants so full with months of care
Soft breaths slip by the sunlit dreams of home

A lovely woman with our children there
And memories of here today
Alone beside a clear blue pool
Tired limbs remember swimming
And relax

Around these shades of mind a peace enfolds
Like fine net curtains swelling
In the summer evening breeze
About the vase and ornamental boxes on a writing desk

The air subsides
And curtains fall to rest
And through the veil a world
With all that happens there
Alive, unchangeable by me
Spectator, child and yet creator
At the dawn of our long dream

Down deep in time original
I grow with love and pride
And knowledge of the right
Attending like a servant
Near the crucible of light


Who will remember
Yanbu al Bahar
When I have left
And the dream is ended?

Can a dead Mercedes
Or a rusting air conditioner
Lolling in the dirt?

The people will all be gone
Back to Manila, Sri Lanka, Houston or London

The few who remain
Will load up their air conditioned world
Into a truck
And mindlessly move on

How long will it take
For eternity to return
To Yanbu al Bahar?

Flight Home

Dawn's distant lullabies
Soften the dark
And gradually night
Floats down to sleep the day

Under the paling black
Somewhere the sun seeks
The perfect spot in time
To crack the ragged blur
Of sea and sky

I watch

Dull glowing deltas
Seep across
And finally a red blob pops
Much smaller than I'd wanted
Just a spot
Not much to worship
For a waiting heart
Not much at all....

The roundness fills
A clear edged dome of fire
But still just red

The sun all right
But somehow not yet quite....

And breakfast comes at thirty thousand feet
A plastic box of croissant, jam and cheese
Not bad.... I'm hungry and it's good to eat

The window to my right flares up
A blast of yellow to the limit of my sight
Then incandescent white around a pulsing core
The universal might
Perpetual exploding of a nuclear device
Onto the infinite trillion particles
In our molecule of night

The crowning light

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