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Contents Page: December 31, 2010, vol 6 no 4

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Jeffrey Harpeng

Henna Birds on the Silk Road

faith is a palace

the size of the heart

It was by the road many rumours travelled, where the merchant unbuckled his belt to tell you there was a whole cosmos of appetites in his belly; savage as wolves, sly as snakes, quiet as a leech, dumb as a lamb, proud as a cockerel. He said, "It is a porch under which other appetites are restless, where the future yearns to become a dumb memory. We are already half forgotten there." To the north of the road is the desert that rivers turned away from, and to the south the caves of the contemplatives. They tell that silence has as much to say as words. "And laughter has an answer to it all." the merchant replied. His mistress's handmaid under her cloak muttered her prayer beads, prayers briefer than the days and never as many.

a lion at the gate

has the sun for a mane

The dunes are so parched, neither serpent nor scorpion are found even in the old ruins. The dunes never rest long enough to be burdened with names. Sand-papered by the wind, grave markers on the horizon have forgotten what it was they had to say. Beyond rest or sleep, under the unquiet sand a young woman is ancient, is wrapped in skins, in textiles dyed turmeric, dyed iron, and a colour blended from ground sky and jade. She still glows with beauty, as if beauty was starlight hammered thin as gold and worn as an alchemy of make-up which death is still waiting to leach away.

against glare a hand
rises in salute

In silence the sages are wise as the wind. Let us invite the rains. Let us bless each other. Let us speak each other's name. The wind is wise when it speaks, when it brings the rain, when it blows to tear men's houses down, when it carries the ship across the sea. The wind teaches us that wisdom has no opinion, that men are ever deceiving each other with words.

her hands were her hands

and the words they signed

A hand was a closed fist tapping at the chest, tapping at the heart, tapping a slow pulse. The gaze of speechless speaker and listener met and travelled down to the heart. The tapping hand began to roll over and over out from the heart. A hawk circled high above. As the hand rolled out to a lightly cupped palm, the fingers turned up toward the distant snow-capped mountains. The other hand came down and pressed the other to the poise of prayer, to the equal supplication of greeting. Then they parted, and the gap was a chasm between them. Clap! Just one clap. The listener felt as if the clap scattered everything. The listener could only close their eyes to the darkness and the hissing of self inside and, as if it was a sound that had travelled a thousand leagues, the chirruping of one cricket in the twilight.

in her heart was a song

about birds that had flown

"… faith as a cage
 rusty bars empty perch…" She spoke of love. On her hands henna birds and is that rain or tears?

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