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A Poet's Progress, Randy Roark

A Poet’s Progress: Ourika Valley, Morocco

Ourika Valley, Morocco

September 20, 2010: Ourika Valley, Morocco

It’s our last day in Marrakech, and we drive out to visit a Berber house in the Ourika Valley of the Atlas Mountains. As we’re leaving the farmhouse, I see a mirror in a shop that I want. I’ve been looking at these Moroccan mirrors ever since I saw the first one in Casablanca. Here small mirrors are hung on walls in large decorated frames with two doors that open to reveal the mirror. They are everywhere in Morocco and I have looked closely at each of them and have found fault with every one—they’re either too touristy or they’re in bad shape or their design is simple and poorly executed. But this one is perfect in every part, except for one overly obvious flaw, so blatantly and clumsily wrong that I wonder if it was the artist commenting that the rest of it was perfect. Its frame and doors were trimmed in bone that had been incised and rubbed with coal-black, or henna, or painted with ink, and the surface of the door and the lintel and doorframe were made of hammered silver that had turned dark with dust and sand and age. The cedar doors were in perfect shape and the hinges were solid from top to bottom on both sides. The mirror itself was slightly foggy in a section near the top, but I’d already decided that if I bought one I would turn it into a shrine, and cover the mirror with an image of whatever god came to me, so it was still perfect.

The only problem is I have 450 dirhams on me and he will go no lower than 850 (a little over $100). I tell the salesman that this is all the money I have on me and I’m not coming back. But he can’t go lower than 850 and so I leave and find Ibrahim in the courtyard. I ask him if he can help me bargain. I show him the mirror and he says “That’s real bone, that’s real silver. Eight hundred and fifty is a good price.” “Yeah, I know, but I don’t have it. I’m just asking for advice. Is it fair to offer 450 dirhams?” The salesman returns—he looks weary, as if he’s dealt with Ibrahim before. Ibrahim says, “You want 850, he’s only got 450. What do you want, 450 or nothing?” “But that is worth much more”—he says, “that’s real silver, that’s real bone.” “We’re not disputing the fact that it is silver. We’re telling you we only have 450 dirhams. Do you want 450 or nothing?” The seller says, “I can show you another one for 450.” And he points to one but I say, “No, I’ve looked at all of them. This is the one I want.” Ibrahim says, “He doesn’t want that one, he wants this one. Do you want to keep it or do you want his 450 dirhams instead?” The salesman asks me, “Can you come up with a couple hundred dirhams?” I open my wallet and show it to him—“Look, there is no more money in here. If you can find more money, you can have it.” I turn every pocket inside out. Nothing. Ibrahim hands the mirror back to the salesman and throws my money at him. The salesman doesn’t reach out to catch the bills so they flutter slowly to the floor. “Do you want 450 or nothing?” The salesman turns to me again, “100 more?” “I told you, I have no more.” Ibrahim shouts, “He is leaving tomorrow, he will not be back, he has 450 dirhams. These are the facts. Do you want 450 dirhams, or do you want nothing?” “You can borrow 100 off of him,” the salesman snarls, and I turn to Ibrahim and laugh, “Well, now your tip is on the line. The only cash I have in my room is everyone’s tip. So now you’ve got as much riding on this as I do.” When we turn back, the salesman has picked up the money and slipped into a backroom, where he is wrapping my mirror in an Arabic newspaper and bubble wrap, twisting sealing tape around it several times as if he’s wringing someone’s neck, glaring at us the whole time. Since he is angry and not paying attention, he knocks several bracelets off the wall behind him onto the floor. “Look out,” Ibrahim says, “You are falling apart. Look, bracelets are falling out of your sleeves. Where did those come from? Are you made of bracelets?”

Our Berber Guide Describes What’s Happening Around Us

To rule fairly you must always close one eye and keep one eye open. Do you want to develop the desert? Well, what will you have to give in return? A basic rule in economics is that you must buy what you cannot trade for, and Morocco is a very poor country. It contains almost no oil reserves. And until the last few years it had to import wheat and had almost nothing that the wheat-rich countries wanted.

In Morocco, if you close both of your eyes and open your pockets, everything is possible. There is a saying here, “No money, no honey.” Corruption runs from one generation to another, the way the rug and leather trades are passed from father to son.

All of what’s possible in Morocco is possible because of water. We have the sand to create beaches if we have water. We can grow bougainvillea, jasmine, and hibiscus if we have water. Two years ago this was desert, now summer is four months a year in Marrakech. Even the sky is generous in this region—it is hot but windy, it has just enough sun but it also has rain.

Some people have become very rich in the last few years but it is good because now they spend their money, which benefits everyone. If you’re rich, you can sit and look out of your window at the snow on the Atlas Mountains from a mile outside of Marrakech. But it can get a little cold if you’re the ones building those houses, the ones looking in.

September 25, 2010: Flying Home, Casablanca to Boulder

The Playwright in the Airport Bar

I carried a flickering light onstage
for a season or two—but living like that
from night to night was too much for me.

I lost the words and then the actors and then the audience
and it got black as if the moon had left the theatre
and my career became a sunflower, bowed at sunset.

I still put a notebook in my pocket every morning
but I never took it out. Some nights there was music
and I danced barefoot in someone else’s story.

It doesn’t matter to me either way
but I imagine it’s better not to
remember or define it

leaving it wholly mysterious—
dying into silence.
It’s still early—

but sooner rather than later
someone turns off the lights,
freezing everything unfinished.

But I don’t want to
give up
any of it.

All I can do is
accept what’s about to change.
We stop, it continues.

But you’re wrong.
I do remember the last time we spoke
but I can’t remember what we said.

Something Unpleasant Is About to Happen—Something Already in Motion

     I have understood that the world is a vast emptiness built    upon emptiness….And so they call me the master of wisdom.—Paul Bowles, “The Song of the Owl”

Wisdom has been lost. I will never know
any sense of it other than my walking away
as if it’s not important, as a dream decays
until it disappears, like our completely vanished
prayers. This moment is the pattern of sunlight
filtered through a lattice. Once it blooms
it slowly crumbles. Whatever we see we can
never see its other side. Is that what you
want from me? Are you satisfied now?

Early Morning Flight Out of Casablanca

You tell me you are going to Fez
Now if you say you are going to Fez
That means you are not going.
But I happen to know that you are going to Fez.
Why have you lied to me, you who are my friend?
—Moroccan joke, quoted by Paul Bowles in “Let It Come Down”

Waiting for the gate to open,
wondering if I’m in the right line,
someone pushes past me,
climbs until he disappears

into the china-blue sky,
as if turning into light
is better than all of this
waiting, uncertain and slow,

that only promises to be endless,
wanting to be finished
as if that would be better than
all of this uncertainty.

No one can see darkness in the bright of
afternoon. The highlights often seem
to be in the satin, and what we’re searching
for might turn out to be empty like a stoplight

in the middle of the desert, or you know you
waited an instant too long, or you convinced
yourself that the answer was no when no
doesn’t answer anything at all.

What is going to happen is going to happen
ready or not, without understanding
anything at all, and it may be dark outside
but from here it just gets darker.

Gate B27: JFK Airport

Waiting to board our plane for Denver, an elderly heavy-set black woman with a headscarf long enough that it covers her knees is praying across the aisle from me. She spreads her hands out and knocks her overnight bag onto my knee. I pause for a moment, not knowing what to do. Do I push her bag aside? Do I replace it? Do I change its location so she doesn’t knock it over again? I decide to stand it up beside her chair, out of the way. Just then she leans backwards and I can see the dark bones in her cheeks, her eyes closed, her lips moving quickly, her hands rising off her knees as if released from gravity, timed with her whispered prayer, one, two, three times up and then back down again. This reminds the other Moslems around us to turn their faces toward Mecca and pray as well. Once again her hands lift off her knees, bending backwards, baring her face to the fluorescent lights, her closed eyelids brighter than the rest of her skin as if lit from behind. Her lips silently repeat the prayers. Bringing her hands to her face, she kisses her ring fingers, thumbs, pinkies, second fingers, middle fingers and swings her arms to the ground on either side of her body, brushing along the carpet, knocking her bag over once again, this time away from me—and her eyes flicker, as she registers that something has been moved—and I get up and walk across the aisle and set it up again. This time I put it even farther back behind her and when she senses me struggling to right her bag she looks up at me and says “We will be here another hour.” I walk over and check the board and she is right.

Article written by Randy Roark

Newtopia staff writer RANDY ROARK worked with Allen Ginsberg for the last 17 years of his life, first as an apprentice, then as his teaching assistant, and finally transcribing and editing 28,000 pages of Ginsberg’s poetry lectures, currently available on-line through the Ginsberg trust. Following Ginsberg’s death, he worked with artist Stan Brakhage, producing art events featuring his films until his death. Since 1998 he has worked with Sounds True as a producer, where he has edited artists such as Alex Grey, writers including William Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson, and a wide variety of spiritual teachers, including Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, and Lakota Elder Joseph Marshall.

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