This poem was written for Mike Bannister in 2009, when he requested a selection of poets to meet at Walpole and perform poetry they had written on the subject of Travel. 

Top floor Abkouh sugar factory, Meshed

Travel held excitement, in South America or Asia,
anywhere away from the grey of 50’s England
distant lands only seen in monochrome or sepia.
Different places, different people, only viewed in image
with the colours of that ‘otherness’ a mystery.
An imaginary traveller, the pale face in the image
staring out from steaming jungles or endless savannah.

At twenty three he was sent to a sugar factory in Iran,
five hundred miles across the desert from Tehran.
A desperate tour that others wiser had rejected,
sabotage was suspected, breakdowns confirmed.
The Persian Desert was a lure, deliberation slight,
even though his wife was pregnant, he took his first flight.

In transit, in Tel Aviv, just before the six day war,
as orange blossom fragrance encircled him;
the hot evening air held a first sense of elsewhere,
unseen, unknown, but immediately recognised.
At the desert’s edge in Meshed, the cold was unexpected
a constant reminder of his ill chosen clothes,
which arose from his ignorance of Iranian geography
unaware that cold Afghanistan was so very close.

Working closely with Iranians he had to learn Farsi
and became Aga Reish, the expatriate expert,
supposed to be all knowing, and show no indecision.
The automatic choice to balance the boiler
when the theft of its water threatened an explosion.

That endless nervous night shift, reacting to alarms,
honed a reflection on his short life’s value,
an introduction to the timelessness of fear.
With intense concentration colours slipped their chrysalis:
the pale blue water valve, polished by the dawn’s light,
the raw glistening red of the untouched melon half,
cold gold glinting on Meshed’s distant mosque
and finally, timidly, the re-emergence of self
as the water gauge crept into the green.
He found his ‘otherness’ alone in that boiler house.

Against all the odds the factory was commissioned.
Elatedly,  repeatedly he blew the factory hooter
and Meshed’s half a million rose an hour early,
an event that triggered his own swift departure.
before security police arrived for him at Abkou.

The sharpness of parting was softened by the sweetness
of reunion with his wife and new-born son.
He didn’t know this was the only time he’d travel,
although he would later go to China,
Cuba, Panama, Vietnam and Venezuela
and many other countries, it was only as a visitor,
or even less, a tourist.

Rezjob, the tool minder.
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