Vital Desert Lesson Number One
Nothing can be more useful to a man than a determination not to be hurried. – Henry David Thoreau
Living on beans and bread
in an abandoned cabin no larger
than a tool shed, I’d be happy,
I once said. If I could just remain
immobile, silent. No place to go,
I’d read Dante’s Inferno and ponder
the nature of mass movements,
the building of Babel’s tower,
the steam locomotive.
Dawn and dusk I’d thank sun and moon
that I’d escaped the grinding bustle,
that nothing disturbed my dreams.
Oh, I know it all seems too idyllic,
but one vital lesson this desert’s teaching:
let nothing rush me—not the heat
I try to keep out of, not the man
behind me in the traffic jam
fidgeting with the folds of his gutra*
while he beeps and speeds past me
one nano second after the light changes.
Inshalla shall be my mantra,
the camel my choice over the Arabian horse—
let her carry me ever so slowly
over the course of the dunes as the wind
plays its favorite tunes on them.
I won’t be rushed into talking too much
or too soon, and when I do speak,
my words will flow slowly and sparingly,
like the wind whispering
to the date palm and sidra tree.
*white head covering worn by many Gulf Arab men.
Diana Woodcock’s first full-length collection, Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders, won the 2010 Vernice Quebodeaux International Poetry Prize. Her second, Under the Spell of a Persian Nightingale, is forthcoming from WordTech Communications. Chapbooks include Beggar in the Everglades, Desert Ecology: Lessons and Visions, Tamed by the Desert, In the Shade of the Sidra Tree, Mandala, and Travels of a Gwai Lo. Widely published in literary journals (including Best New Poets 2008), her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Award. Prior to teaching in Qatar (since 2004), she worked for nearly eight years in Tibet, Macau and on the Thai/Cambodian border.