by John Thompson
c. late 1940s
I hate and I love : poems
trust us to learn the truth they said,
the lay of the land,
its soil, its vegetation, its watersheds, and waterways.
Thus with assurance,
shouting at their camels,
rearing their proud horses,
they started off.
And all that day,
the red cloud of their going was
pointed at across the dusty plain,
by those that stayed behind,
and envied them.
Their creatures bore them patiently
into the thirsty waste,
which, as it widened
became more niggardly
and promised less.
The streams narrowed,
and ponds were smaller,
the bushes dwindled,
the trees were spindlier,
the sparse grass kissed and rattled.
This they noted in their journals,
also the hot white sun,
the wildernesses of stone,
the tracts of sand,
the dryness of the air,
the flat horizons,
the blind white lakes of salt.
Onwards through melting curtains of mirage,
far past their lean provision for return,
they rode the endless level,
stone, sand, salt.
Until at length they cried,
'Soon it must change,
must end' they cried,
and so with a desperate belief,
they hurried to reach the first oasis, vale or foothill,
of whatsoever gracious and green region,
must lie before them.
Urgently they peered for frontier tents,
or huts, for border trails
of whatsoever strange unheard of people,
lovers of dance and feasting,
faithful keepers of farms, roads, markets, hostelries and temples,
must dwell beyond the desert.
Surely a kingdom, thriving and fruitful,
crowned with palaces of languid Rajahs,
dangling crimson birds,
of passionate noble men,
and decked with gold.
Surely a singing realm of waterfalls,
of friendly woods, orchards and pleasances,
beyond this loneliness,
through which they laboured
blearing at each other
unable to croak farewell,
among the stone, the sand, the silences,
their horses dying and their camels lost.
Until the silences, the sand and the stone,
possessed them all,
and took them,
and absorbed them,
and into the truth which they had dared to seek.