(Egypt’s Western Desert)
Sand speaks eternally of water. Wind-shaped into ripples,
it stretches far … white mimicking the ocean.
My fragile skin wrapped in yard upon yard of rainbow-woven
cloth, still the sand filters in as our little tin
oven on wheels rattles across the desert.
Bedouin acquire, young, the “desert eye” that reads
clouds, sun, the shadows on the dunes to find
the lone acacia, centuries old, twisted and black,
reaching deep beneath the desert floor to draw life
molecule by molecule from an invisible well.
And these dark, high-soaring desert birds?
Surely somewhere, in this infinity of dunes
they, too, find sustenance. Find solace.
Towering rocks, sand-bitten into parodies—
cobra, lion, giant mushroom—stand about,
stark and white.
Sun arrived at its blind zenith, a camel train rests
in their meager shade, five knob-kneed mountains
of dusty cloth crouched on the sand,
while a few yards off, their turbaned driver
sleeps and watches, watches and sleeps.
Dung beetle, disk of gold, this high, molten sun
is born each day, they way, of woman
and set to float in a mystical ship across the sky
from the black, basalt dunes of the East
to the blazing White Sahara. And here, at dusk,
the goddess Nut swallows it up again.
Legs, belly and rib cage stretched the whole length
of heaven, she lets its bright burning
move all night, invisible, through the core of her—
until, at dawn, the new sun emerges,
round, red and glistening,
from between her attenuated thighs.
This shell I plucked from the sand, small,
translucent, gently cupped like my fingernail—
it is a survivor, too.
And what am I in the desert? Sand grit
insinuated into every crevice
of my being, I cling to the thought
of the slender, black umbilicus,
all that joins us, mingy fleabitten
oasis by oasis to—
far beyond our sight—almost
the lush, green belt of the Nile.
Sand erases tears and the incidents of our days.
Like years, the desert stretches before and behind,
potsherds and crumbled brick
all that remains of history’s brave outposts.
And yet, look, in a cranny scratched
out of the rock that rises close,
here, beneath earth’s crystalline skin,
a farmer and his infant son lie, spiced, wrapped
and buried for eternity, the tiny bundle placed to rest
on the breast of the large.
– Mary Coolidge Cost,
from Goldfinch and Memory
(Steamboat Press, 2005)