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A moment in Tripoli

In 1999, I traveled to Tripoli to try and collect on a debt that was owed to my late father and overdue by a decade. I wrote this poem there even as I was writing off the debt.


In the evening
the dust from all the deserts that encircle Tripoli climb into the air until the whole world turns pale and yellow

and like an ageing fragility
return into patterns on every car as they heave and squeeze into shrinking corners and then grow still

For a moment
heads sink back in distraction
I find mine in the warm old seat cover scents as my car horn exhales a muted curse

I look outside
into my own private peculiar world
a dry and dull fruit market where
the woman with the long black face and sad eyes encased by a brittle silk shawl tugs at my lonely fearful moment

The road back home is lost
it has been wrenched out of my heart by this alien place like it wrenched away my fathers many years before
she is all I have left to hold onto – the woman with the long black face – and this market square

How many years will it take with them to erase who we are and embrace who we will become in this new world?
family, friends and familiarity dissolve
only the woman with the long black face – and her poverty…..

Let us begin again from here in silence
for without my memories
I may have nothing to say
and without my father’s unfinished ambitions
I could wake up and help you lift your basket of fading fruit upto this roadside kerb

and yet …

I can still feel the weight of the few dinars and fruits we have left each evening
will they be enough to warm our bellies and keep us quiet?

In new worlds I find new fears quite easily
to help me start my life again
the real questions are the ones I can’t ask yet
or perhaps the ones I may never ask

For every story of the world remains the same
it’s only the way they are told that changes

The same fears that crawl like an unfamiliar voice in my head
when I feel my father’s absence,
sing like the adventures I was born to live through
when I feel his immortal love.

The road empties
cars escape in different directions
Abdallah barks on in words I don’t understand
laughs like a king in a way I don’t understand
and moves into second gear to help me find a hotel

I glance into the side-view mirror
an old father’s eyes look back at me
sandstorms, hope and foreign lands
the many roads that take me back
to commiserate
with my gentle father


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