This evening air one samples it
Like silk in booths along the Nile
Lit by naphtha flares.
Damascened, the sunset glitters
On, and the light-enveloped island,
The dragoman, who stood there, tall,
Triumphant in his black and gold,
Crowned with scarlet fez,
While we trans-shipped from Thebes, is falling
Asleep, and by his side an older
Statue engulfs our gaze.
Antiquities, new-minted from
The tombs across the river or
Workshops just out of sight,
Are spread around us, and their number
Suggests a season too long dormant
For Rameses the Great.
The tourists have not floated up
From Cairo as they used to do
In search of sun and peace.
No crowds at Barclays Bank. No supper
Parties on the terrace. Few to
Applaud snake-charmers’ grace.
The Winter Palace looms above
Us like a funeral temple built
To crown King Edward’s reign.
Where now those long white-chamois-gloved
Hands, holding diamonds to a wilted
Face, at night, alone?
The sphinxes in their series keep
Secrets, as do the poor Franciscan friars,
Chapelled beyond the mosque.
Only this evening air is sweeping
Questions across the Nile – faint lyre-notes
Listened to at dusk.