March 2024

Back to Issue 15

Embedded, in place

By Christopher Palmer


The days have a hazy brightness to them

as though they can’t decide what they want to be.


Shopkeepers hose down windows

try not to become the desert for one more day;


a grain of sand for every second.

Pylons leave suburbs in shadow;


columns hold up the sky. Minarets pinprick

occasional clouds into rain, while advertising rainbows


form over the sides of buildings.

Sights that vie for city centrepiece.


Civilisations are layers of sweetened pastry

eaten by time.


Muezzins summon the faithful through loudspeakers

and they arrive carrying bombs.


Strangers become companions who then

become friends before becoming strangers.


But I prefer the company of ghosts.

Who knew that death could be so beautiful?


The land mocks the path of roads. Feluccas zigzag.

Sacred Ibis and the peregrine falcon navigate millennia.


Among the centuries yet everything

keeps me in the present, reminding of where I am.


The crackle of the corniche, shouts of baksheesh,

the modern skyline’s forgettable pastiche.


Asked if I know Ian Meldrum, I say I don’t

and ask if he knows me.


Present in every moment. Experiences are concentrated;

become layers of pastry sweetened by time.


Men smoke like they think it still means something.

I do the same at El Fishawy; drink hibiscus tea


and talk of home in a kind of cultural exchange.

The price of everything is negotiated


through a traveller’s camera lens.

Here, a picture is worth three or four words.


And everywhere, all around

words evaporate to nothingness.