We buckle up and watch the needle spin
as, prospects narrowing to straight ahead,
the coloured cavalcade of days begin
to take us through that shadow-world the dead
will dandle out before us, constantly
beguiled and shifting in each wind-tossed head.
And then it's light again, and we will see
some diner, garage or communal shop
tear up and blaze on past. A fence or tree
trails off companionably until we stop,
when clouds go on before us and the blue
of far horizons settles on some mountain top
whose climb is part of us, as though it too
rose out of adolescent lands, that space
we bear reluctantly in all we do.
It's then we think of young Battuta, trace
the Qarakhanids or the Golden Horde,
the whirl of dervishes to resting-place.
And think how Huanzang's journeyings accord
with wisdoms winnowed out of days' deceits
in scriptures recollected, versed and stored.
Or merchant totting up the day's receipts,
Pizarro marking out the lands he'd rule,
the Arab voyager in tropic heats.
Of how the caliphs fought with jinn and ghoul,
for faiths their followers would soon deform,
as barefoot villager returned from school.
Odysseus the most of all, that storm
and-shipwrecked voyager, who knew
how Circe conjures up in human form
our desperate longings, always will. The few
who pass unscathed have learned the jeweller's art
to carve the cameo from that quiet hue
of textured honesty, which does not start
with promises beneath the counterpane
but larger purposes that serve the heart.
Within this wilderness of love and pain,
and deep immured in it, with no way out,
we fare as travellers who'd still retain
the sense of others slept with, and no doubt
a pride and tenderness, if mixed with shame
that no one's memory is long without.
Innumerable are those we cannot name
that come about us as some bar or room
is cleaned and emptied of us all the same.
And more so even when about us bloom
those longed-for miracles of limbs and eyes
which we too carelessly ignore, assume
are false remittances of breathy sighs,
repentances from dew-pressed sleep,
and not the soul alert to its disguise.