Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Breathing the Light



CAMEL COUNTRY -- BLACK flints, marly limestone, wells and ruins, hill villages, gazelle desert, rice-night, coffee-fire, cool upland stars crying

File:Tunisia Sahara.jpg

LITTLE SHELTERS, BRANCHES and palm leaves, deep neutral moon, breathing the light


IN DARKNESS, BANDS of air stirring, hot black air-narrows, lonely desert, immense shadow-dark doors above our heads, refracted shafts of sky across the great valley

File:1997 278-7 Sahara.jpg

TALK IN TENT of unknown stars, suns beyond suns, distance unseen -- stars behind world's end, turned on greater worlds

AT DAWN, DOWN a bank of chalk -- flint-capped hollow conical hills shine as snow in sunshine

File:Siwa desert (03-2009).jpg

SCOURED DAZZLING PLAIN of grey packed sand colors, porphyry, green basalt, pure white stratum carpet, particles caught like diamonds, hard glassy waves miles in front of us


OVER SUGAR-LIKE granular surface for miles up valley with knolls of green stone and green shadows blended


FLOODS OF WHITE, flat reach of earth, hum of flies hovering over veiled sleep


DELTA WADI BROODING, twenty miles away the great hills dancing, heat feathery, swelling sand

File:Maroc. Oued Tensif.jpg

GREAT DELTA DARK in memory of flood, twisting across dried
beds -- beyond, the invisible sea -- the river a mile wide with banks of sand and clay divided, mud flaking, dead air

File:Quena Desert SPOT 1327.jpg

TEN MILES ACROSS one huge mud flat -- sunset cliffs red against the sky

File:Wadi Rumm Pan 2.jpg

MENTAL TIME AT nightfall -- stars drowning the plateau

File:Marokko Wüste 02.JPG

FLAT MILKY STARLIGHT and cool air -- desert full of sounds, scents, ebb and flow of wind lifting dry grasses, horizon blacker than sky

File:Michael martin wüste (49).jpg

FILLING UP TIME -- sleeping moon, distant noises, star-fever -- great dark lava range, black sandstone cliffs hanging in air-suspended stillness above the valley

File:Wadi rom0063da.jpg

EAST SLOWLY, INTO a distance-blue haze plain -- long shadows, morning river of sunlight poured onto every stone -- northward, a little later, over low desolate sandstone slabs ranged up to map a great strung bow


LAVA WAVES WITH a covering of cinder -- water-systems scoring yellow lines across blue-black land for miles, earth features colored as on a map -- scorched road, disordered causeways -- sand-laden ground, orange-rind sunlight, faded blue-grey basalt tetrahedra protruding from horizon, rubbed and rounded, forms embedded like tesserae

File:Reg. Maroc saharien. Région du Dra.jpg

INLAID BLUE ROADS across clean yellow mud ridges, bars of blue-grey stone, a stretch of jet-black mud, crystallized fronds of metallic rock, lava gone iron-blue, shot through with bits of light

File:Lava tube at Craters of the Moon NM-750px.jpg

HOT SLEEP, FLIES, yellow tent-hole sunlight, dim ringing of coffee, tinny distant music, drum
of blood deeper than thought

File:Sahara desert.jpg

EMPTY MIRAGE SPACES, heat waves atremble, light piercing crystal clear and blazing -- wild birds alarmed by our sounds in sudden flight across the lava fields -- hard swamp, blue walls, silent
sunken palms

File:Mirage (9).JPG

HUNDRED MILE ELECTRUM shield reflecting sunlight, wall against delirium -- open flint desert, blistering day -- shallow valleys with haze distance lit by pouring sun of late afternoon


EVENING LIGHTS OUT over the ridge, coming from the slopes beyond --- later black silent reek of smoke -- ferment of soil in steely desert wind -- cloistered air


A FLOCK OF desert birds divided high overhead in waves like chance-winnowed corn -- burning new moon pushed cautiously into hunting places, animals alert

File:Judea 2 by David Shankbone.jpg

MIDNIGHT LUNAR WHITENS landscape frozen shadowless -- night birds flying in wheeling circles -- then night empty again, tired laughter, sleep in wormwood

File:Rub al Khali 002.JPG

Atacama desert, Chile: photo by NASA, 2005
Shadows of camels, Sahara desert, Tunisia: photo by Alexey Krapukhin, 2004
Moon near mountains, early morning, Africa: photo by Bruno Befreetv, 2008
Southern edge of Sahara desert, Niger: photo by Dan Lundberg, 1997
Edge of dune slipface, Death Valley: photo by Jon Sullivan, 2006
Siwa desert, Egypt: photo by Isabelle and Stéphane Galley, 2007
Amguid crater, Sahara: photo by Bernard Devouard, 2003
Sand dust in desert, Africa: photo by Bruno Befreetv, 2008
Sahara: photo by Anthere, 2003
Valley of Oued Tensif, Morocco: photo by Alexandrin, 1970
Quena desert: satellite image by Cnes-Spot Image, 2006
Sunset, Wadi Ram, Jordan: photo by Askii, 2008
Dunes east of Merzouaga, Morocco: photo by Joadi, 2008
Dunes in Arakao, Sahara, Niger: photo by Michael Martin, 2004
Wadi Ram desert, Jordan: photo by Yves Picq, 2004
Permian ripple marks, Lac de Salagou: photo by Philidendula, 2005
Moroccan Sahara, Dra region, reg formed by metallic-oxide-blackened stones: photo by Alexandrin, 1970
Lava tube at Craters of the Moon, New Mexico: photo by Daniel Mayer, 2003
Sun over Sahara: photo by Jgremillot, 2005
Mirage in desert between Aswan and Abou Simbel, Egypt: photo by Remih, 2009
Desert and interior sea, Libya: photo by Bruno Befreetv, 2008
Moonrise, Algeria: Bertrand Devouard/Florence Devouard, 2004-2005
Judean hills: photo by David Shankbone, 2007
Rub' al Khali (Empty Quarter), largest sand desert on earth: photo by Nepenthes, 2008


Zephirine said...

Wow. What a journey!

TC said...


Thanks for accompanying me...

Dale said...

Tom, this is amazing. The poem's stark movements mimic the landscapes so well. And that's just the beginning....

Elmo St. Rose said...

desert clarity,
in the movie Lawrence of Arabia,
Lowell Thomas
asks TE Lawrence "Why do you
like the desert so much?"
His response "It's very clean."

It's such a beautiful narrative TC
that if the poets in Arabia read it, it might contribute to world

Anonymous said...

I have such a short attention span Thomas *sigh* but......yes I did travel with you allllllllllllllllll the way and enjoyed such, muchly. I am liking, that I was able to breath the light (and yes I AM breathing again.....somewhat! Hope you are too!)through your words written/pictures displayed.

TC said...

The desert clarity, the dry atonal spaces of this were a kind of half-real dream. After the journey of composing it, there came spam for footwear. Which for that matter might have come in handy. And then as if by a negative reverse charm -- the valley pictured atop this post did not receive any rain between the 16th and the 20th centuries -- two nights after the post went up, a vast deluge came down, and is ongoing; five minutes ago a large section of the roof broke off. In two hours we have had rain totals that would add up to a good year in the Western Sahara.

Rachel said...

This is the kind of place I like to visit usually through music when the mood I need surrounding me can match a lost and desolate feeling. When I need honesty in feeling alone or offtrack. A poem has never fit that for me but this one does. Thanks for giving me another place to go.

TC said...

Thanks very much Rachel. You have very sensitively "read" the internal motive of this one, I think. It was put together in bits over a long time in periods when it felt strangely helpful to try to construct images that would perhaps objectify the sort of feeling of which you have spoken. At various times and stages it was longer (it's already too long!) and was lost in the morass of my stubbornly wanting to pretend it was "about" something, having a narrative, as in fiction, with portent, etc. But in the end I understood that for better or worse it was a mood piece, or maybe a way around a mood.

. said...

This was like viewing the many many aspects of an exquisite painting for me. Close up,far away,where each line leads,hues of the mind pulling and pushing,the mystery,the facts, the richness of emotion.Wonderful!


TC said...

Thanks Leigh. Especially gratifying to hear this response from a poet who is also a painter.