A boy dyes his shirt the iridescent blue of sky
at dusk—or is it dawn? Rouged & glittered
he begins, smacking lips, licking gums
inside the club’s electronic hum.
displayed by the bar, slip off their tees—
leading the child
a labor of word, lyre, bark—
Ecstatic, he lurks into the back room, slipping
his tongue through the body’s shutters.
Floorboards unravel into a skein of metal.
What pattern of occasion will free him?
A prayer rug for a strict occasion.
A patch of sand, enclosed within a mesh fence,
where women in headscarves kneel on sajda,
hot from the day’s sun, a pleasure this agony
of warmth & muscle: knee to sand, head to sand.
A pleasure: restraint from lamb & water,
the empty carafe, the scales of fish
meatless & hanging to dry,
the grapes never to become wine.
Eating grapes, my friend harangues me
about the state of affairs in Riyadh.
His lips are wet, he is driving a Nissan rental.
At a streetlight, a single blackstart lands
on the side-view mirror: a lore of midnight
& melancholy song. “This Arab spring,”
my friend continues, my friend stops. . .
“Yes,” I say, thinking of the blackstart
somewhere in a baobab by now.
Somewhere, a mother faints at the butcher
when a lamb’s tongue is cut from the head—
the butcher pressing his fingers into
the eye sockets for leverage
& the vague cool
of the air passing through the room awakes her
as when Mohammed awoke
in the night desert: no spruce to shade the dead
meat of him, no wind, not even stars—
& as the mother exits
a boy begins his journey to the city,
wearing yellow sandals & a ring on each finger.
- Charif Shanahan