The Halfway House, Part III

One street of dirty white meanders

From barbed wire to the shunting-yard;

The old trucks pass, their broken fenders

Flapping, a barefoot toga’d guard;

And all the while the soda-cinders

Drift, and the sun is very hard.


The houses, whitened mud; the mosque,

Of splattered mud; the Omdah’s palace,

Likewise mud; and mud, the brisk

Station of the salt police;

These make a muddy arabesque,

Or alkali and tin-can Hellas.


For though the Greeks are in the café,

The look of sheets is here: the white

Light stretches back and forth like taffy;

A woman wears a water pot;

And men drink thimblefuls of coffee,

And talk, Socratically or not.


The clangour, where the Pharaohs bathed,

When dead among the tall bullrushes,

Comes from the crumbling engines, swathed

In string, that give off sudden flashes:

In vats of brine where kings were seethed

The bubble, petrifying, splashes.


This snowlike village, Moslem, Sunnite,

Dependent on the need for soap,

Exists, no doubt, and marks the finite

World: beyond it there is hope

Of something else - the given minute

In which the desert changes shape.