Two lines from ‘The Rubaiyat’

This poem recently appeared on the webzine ink-sweat-and-tears , and is about an event that happened nearly 44 years ago, a moment when unexpected enchantment and beauty produced  a merger of the emotional, aesthetic and spiritual.


Khyyam's grave, one of the poor photo's taken on the day.

On our one free day we went to Naishapur
in Ahmed’s black Mercedes, with his pride
an inbuilt record player, which only took one disc.
The date is forgotten, more than forty years ago
but I remember that day on the Old Silk Road
I hadn’t read the Rubaiyat, but knew of Omar Khyyam
and the Silk Road to Naishapur sounded like a poem.
After months in crowded Mashad, the journey was a promise
of travel at leisure, a sense of  stolen time, but
the real theft was colour, in a land of reddish brown,
tarnished by the nearness of the Great Salt Desert,
the North Eastern edge of Dasht-e Kavir.
Between the shouldering peaks of Binälüd and Sorkh
we drove down the arid  valley of the Sabzevär river
along steep dry  waddi’s that cut under the road.
There were minimal signs of any civilising presence,
our passing stirred the dust in a silent static vastness.

By midday we reached the memorial garden.
Khyyam’s grave was imprisoned by a concrete grotto
rebuilt  five years before in a heavy handed style –
the only gentle lightness the poet would have noticed
were the thin blowsy roses in the sun baked earth.
I had travelled for inspiration, but arrived under-whelmed.
Photographs were taken, which later developed poorly,
and in silence we turned for the long journey home.

Part way, in the desert, we halted for the silence,
which was gradually eroded by a distant murmur
slowly growing to an overwhelming roar,
then stopped
as the police motorcyclist stalked to the car.
A lengthy conversation was fodder for his boredom,
paid for with directions to a ruined caravanserai.
Up an unmade track it slumped roofless but walled,
long empty and neglected on the real Silk Road.
Once used by Marco Polo, so local legend told.

In the shattered courtyard, I stared straight into rooms
where travellers had rested, and history had strayed.
Did the smell of their camels still in hang in the air?
Was that smoke from the cook fires, spice from the East,
was the breeze jingling harness, did the sun glint from steel?
The details froze forever yet nothing was real
but anything was possible and the nexus was me.

There was a Door to which I found no key;
There was a Veil past which I could not see:

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