Lamu By Night
(Tourist Notice, Lamu Island: Please Respect our Islamic Traditions)
I am a blind fish in the Styx.
Writhing through the darkness of this alleyway
I clumsy past the scuttling roaches
open drains and feet of ancient men
who sit in silence, simply,
bent and resting in the darkness;
past the Arab-art of doorways,
past the flaking whitewashed walls that
live in negative at night and press
their palms against my shoulders.
I graze my foreign elbow, stub my
tender, sandalled toes again, again,
again, and curse the narrowmindedness
of architects. A bat eeks out its sonar.
But then, this island's assonantal chant:
a muezzin's bright Azan, sung far away,
invokes a tidal wave of light that floods
the square, that shafts and damascenes
its lightning down this alleyway at night.
All ornate doorways are illumined
and each Godly twist of chisel
whorls with light. And look, these
sullen men in doorways, hunched
and hidden, shine in khanzus now
and wake and rise and wing along
the call-to-prayer's straight torchbeam,
as albino bats, perhaps, might leave a cave.
Ahead, like tour guides, watch, they lead
and fly in numbers to their source -
our source - of light.
By Stephen Derwent PartingtonQLRS Vol. 1 No. 4 Jul 2002