Two Poems

Ruth Padel


You give up your dream like a hero
sitting on bladderwrack at the edge of ocean
calling on his mother whom he believed
a goddess of the sea. He was half-divine,
at play in his dual self. The watercourse
was always there and she was you-in-me,
a gray-green safety, swirl of hair. But one day
when he put his foot on earth, she'd gone.
The gift had been withdrawn. Hermaphrodite
had crossed and not come back, the way Jews
in the Byzantine world forgot the Hebrew,
read Holy Writ in Greek and chanted prayer
like flame from an unknown source.

Extract from the Travels of Ibn Jubayr

How we need each other, says the Master
returned from the Haj, crossing over this desert
of life and back, back to Granada.
The last water found was an uncased well.
Sand had fallen in. The camel-leader
sought to dig the water out but failed.

Next day we entered 'Aydhab, a city of the desert,
and waited in air so hot it melts the flesh.
Nothing to eat save what we brought.
Ships came and went from India and Yemen.
Those citizens live off pilgrims, who carry in
their food, pay tax and wait for the jilab to Jiddah.

You cross the drift-born desert, a mountain range,
the clash and whistling of sea with your soft palate open
like chalk. You walk a border guarded by laws
you never heard. These are the crossings of faith.
We pay a single journey in advance
and pack into an open boat like chickens in a coop.

Winds blow us into anchorage, a shallow bay
where tall men, mountain Sudanese,
lead us through the mirages on camels. If we perish,
they seize everything. Pilgrims who survive come in
like men who have thrown off the shroud
and lie down under flowering trees.