The muzzein voices break the night
Telling us of what we are composed:
Coffee grits; a transparency of sugar;
The ghost of the cardamom in the cup’s mosque.
These soldiers will not marry.
They are wed already
To the daughters of uranium.
In heat and dust
Watching her bucket fill.
This is the first story.
Boys of Watts and Jones County
Build cookfires on the ramparts of Ur.
But the desert birds are silent
And all the wolves of the province
Fled to the north.
While we are filming the sick child
The sick child behind us
Dies. And as we turn our camera
The family group smartens itself
As if grieving might offend.
Red and gold
Beneath the Baghdad moon,
Beneath the Pepsi globe.
Since the first Caliph
There has been the suq –
These lemons, this fish:
And hunched over the stone
The women in their black –
Four dusty aubergines.
My daughter, he says,
Stroking the Sony DV Cam,
Its batteries hot, the tally light red.
But his daughter, 12, keeps to her cot,
Woo, woo wooing like the hoopoe
Over the British cemetery.
What are children here
But olivestones under our shoes?
Reach instead for the date
Before its brilliance tarnishes.
Back and forth
Back and forth
The Euphrates kingfisher,
The ferryman’s rope.
The ice seller waits
Beneath his thatch of palm,
His money running in the gutter’s tilth.
Over the searchlights
And machine gun nests on Rashid Street
The bats explode like tracer fire.
Yellow as dates these lizards
Bask on the basilica.
Our cameraman removes his shoes,
Squats down to pray.
With the throat of a shark,
The angel who came to the hundreds
Sheltered in Amariya.
In the hotel carpark
One hundred and fifty brides and grooms
Await the photographer.
All night I lie awake
Listening to their cries.
This first dollar peeled off the wad
Buys a stack of dinars higher than my heart.
A heron in white
And a woman in black
Knee deep together
In the green Tigris.
Her two pomegranates lie beside the bed
But they have carried the child away.
She alights from the bus
In a cloud of black,
The moon and stars upon her skirt,
And painted across her breast
The Eye that Sees All Things.
The vermilion on his toenails
Is almost worn away,
This child of the bazaar
Who rolls my banknote to a tube
And scans through its telescope
The ruins of Babylon.
Four billion years
Until the uranium
That was spilled at Ur
Easier to wait for the sun to die.
In the Ministry of Information
Computers are down, the offices dark;
But with me in the corridor
A secret police of cockroaches.
Moths, I say.
No. Look again, she suggests.
Fused to the ceiling are the black hands
Of the children of Amariya.
The certainties return:
These cushions, a pipe,
And the sweet Basran tea
Stewed with limes.