The Halfway House, Part I        

 
After the bus ride through the lower kingdom

The travellers, disembarking, order beer:

‘Pasha! Pasha!’ cry the beggar children,

‘Baksheesh, Pasha!’ - while the waiters stare.

 

Priest and policeman stir their coffees, talk;

After five minutes, rise, move towards the door;

The turbaned priest, the armed policeman, walk

Steadily away from the travellers at the bar.

 

And there the Greeks in tailcoats serve the Persian women

Chartreuse and benedictine - aquavit;

And there the Alexandrian voices tinkle

Like ice in glasses left too long in the heat.

 

The flies, the yellow dogs, the little girl

In pigtails, sweating through her satin coat;

The English Nanny like a single pearl

Dissolving in a winedark foreign state;

 

The mother with the tickets and the passport,

Long weeping eyes, her shoes of crocodile;

The chauffeur at a further distance smoking;

Strong tea, and lemonade; gin and ginger ale:

 

This picture, as it were a postcard, takes

One of the travellers by surprise; the well

Of tears, at which a Christian sometimes slakes

The thirst of flight, rises and brims the soil.

 

A soil like tar beneath the weight of travel,

The slick macadam road that runs from home;

These tears to lay the dust, perhaps - the sudden

Storm in the desert turning sand to loam.

 

‘Baksheesh! Baksheesh! Baksheesh, Pasha! Baksheesh!’

The children cry - begging their present game;

The yellow dogs in unison unleash

A mongrel wailing; and all the waiters scream.