The Halfway House, Part V        

The bottom of the sea is here - only the sea is gone:

The fish, who fathomed that this air was out of place, withdrew;

The luscious foliage of the greater deep withered, turned to stone;

And where the waters were, the denser salts stayed on as dew.


The tracks the camels made are myriad, yet not one remains;

The wind when sweeping here swept to the corners of the sky.

And every step may be a stopping place, a halt in chains;

For this way came the slaves, and that way hobbled tanks ran dry.


The dunes and fall-aways at first allow the eyes relief.

Later they only aggravate the sameness out of sight.

The mica-dusted bones excuse a sudden frightened grief,

If jackal is bewept in truth, and not as anchorite.


The depths extend, the dry waves swallow up the traveller, bake

The saint the colour of a loaf of laminated bread.

And while the sluggish soul wends forward from the bitter lake,

Mirages flicker like mid-summer lightning far ahead.


This is the place where bees in amber swarm, where fossils play

In the liquid rock, where hippogryphs and centaurs roam.

This is the wilderness, the painted subterranean day

Wherein spirits of nitrate make believe the tomb is home.


Here are the battlefields: noiseless, the rusted mines explode.

The picked carcass of the eagle falls from Anthony’s hand.

See, there Cambyses, king of Persia, drowns; by that dim road

Goes Alexander to the last and still unconquered land.


And all is sand.

                      The traveller, coming after saints, is shown,

Minute by minute, how the desert wears away smooth stone.

In silence he walks on after the donkeys who have known

Which way the only well springs, and where the lion and lamb

          lie down.