The Traveller
(for John)
 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 
The elephants first surfaced,
swathed in a sea of silver stars –
an umbilical cord of silken saris; the traveller’s
rough nails snagged the weave, triangles

of gold appeared. He pulled again
scattering nutmeg, beaded bracelets, more,
the orient of a sailor's kitbag –
to treasure-house our shabby kitchen floor:

Mahmud leading the tired herd
homewards across a swelling river,
heads turned towards the rising sun –
Eastwards, the traveller said. His shiver,

unexpected, pulled me up sharp,
I looked at them. See how they skulk,
when faced the wrong way round, he said.
It’s Eastwards, Mecca, or watch them sulk.


                                        ***

And so they stayed, he saw to that
till his wife, dusting them the day he died,
turned them westwards, faces to the wall.
I stretched my arms to turn them, sighed –

heard his traveller’s voice, That’s it, that’s fine,
the ebony was cool to touch – the hands
I saw were his, not mine.
 


 

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