Jamaal, your sister was a cat and she killed me.
In the dark shadows she played with kingdoms
And I said I had only come to meet someone.
Then she pursed her lips and I knew I was mortal.
I said I had come for some sun and fun –
I had only come to shed some light on a shady deal.

Yes, I was there sipping seawater from a jar,
Tracing the ascendancy of a goddess.
Her luxuriant walk was a long slow century
As she dragged my eyes along the line of my hat brim.
I said I had come for the market price.
Your sister killed me, Jamaal, and she was a cat.

Carthage and its carnage bristled with industry;
A plague of things came from the boats in port
From wide, filthy decks lying dead off a sandbar
Flocks bleated out husky songs to Mecca.
But all that was behind me with the storm
Of dysentery for the moment subsided.
A million passages across fresh-fed water
Led to reenactments of Pharaoh’s humbling:
Pilgrims swarmed like flies around the mouth of the Nile.
Gnats and locust matted the sails of river dhows
Until a cough of wind finally promised land.

Shady and nameless, I wandered narrow ways
Past buckets of steam and meat, puke, spices and mint.
I dealt in a delicate trade of porcelain,
I traded bold disregard for a taste of gold.
How easily, so I have shown you, Jamaal,
Each can break: one in the hand, one the soul.
I was a careful man with foolproof eyes;
You would not find me wandering anywhere
But down the busiest streets in this ancient city.
That night was no different, that old Cairo night,
Held in the wet warm grip of a trembling night sky.
That night was the same, that Egyptian night,
Filling with smoke, light and celluloid wings.
But that night, too, the city was clever with eyes
Conspiring so with chance in the truck of pleasure,
Tricking my soul in the business of ruin.

* * * * * *
Bemused by conviction, buried in desire
(Like electric L.A. seen from afar
On a balcony in suburban Burbank),
The city asserted seduction without purpose.
I made a cantina on a busy corner,
A coarse place harried with worn out welcomes,
Full of tourists and turbans; – there was your sister
While I, in fine white linen and local silks,
Represented the best in tropic composure
To endure a few lantern hours of low-lit sweat.
A portable transistor in some dark corner
Played songs, most of which I could not translate,
From the tiny mouth of its transmission.
But, clawing through the noise, Gilberto sang softly,
Ah, Love is the saddest thing when it goes away . . .
I liked that foreign something under her voice,
Something husbanding a candid lyricism.
There was the squalor and my own lights to go by . . .
And your sister killed me. She was a cat
With scarab eyes crawling slow and gleaming
Like the clear ripple of cataract tides
Drawing thin the muddy river’s recession.
But now she was suddenly flooding out into
And turning the screws of my vanity,
Irrigating the dry sinews of my heart.
I was there to lift a few dishonest dollars
From a hieroglyph or cracked monument,
Practice a few queer traditions for good appearance
And get back to my hotel room in time to count
My winnings, make a survey of my ransoms,
A quick synopsis of curses and kings,
A perusal of split stone and forgotten time.
I was there to order drinks and smoke leaf
By the hour, not to cower at statues and sand.
I was not there, Jamaal, to die so carefully.
The sand and balanced stone of a thousand years
Have nothing on your sister, to whom, even so,
After Carthage, I came (as recommended by
A friend and partner). So it was to be,
So you said, The Purchase Of The Season:
Her face is dark porcelain – to stare at her is to
Stare at the night! Ah, her skin shines a gold
Of the rarest kind! Go at once! She will give you
All of it and more! Go now! To think about it
Is to lose! Go! She awaits your every move!
Her love, it is porcelain-fine! . . . . Ah, but her soul
Shines like gold! . . . All of it and more! By the buy, Jamaal,
She killed me well before the morning came,
Well before the first king stirred in any kingdom.

Well before the first fly stirred in any kitchen
Her tracks covered themselves in the cool shifting sands,
Faded like the importance of empty coffers,
Hiding from the hot justice of the rising sun.
To look at pyramids is to think a long time,
So do me a favor, Jamaal, and go to hell.

When I was in old Cairo, my old friend,
I found your sister alright – she  felt exactly like
The slim horn of a golden moon piercing
My porcelain breast as it dipped to the farthest dune.
Expenditures were easy, money no object;
The thing was finished, liquidated in no time.

Jamaal, it’s quiet beneath the pyramids tonight,
All except for a wind – or something like a wind
Shifting in the spirit of profit and loss;
The desert is the business now, and business is good.
After all, sand supplies a great demand . . .
Perhaps I should feel betrayed, my old friend. Perhaps I should.

I only feel silent. I hear wind, her profit,
Or I hear something very like the wind, my loss.
A silent partner of the night, I rest
In the peaceful counting house of sand grains and stars.
Now the dunes arch their backs against the sky
And the desert stirs with the steady purr of aeternity.


  1. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    Look upon JOB’s poetry, ye Mighty….

    This one’s a little esoteric for my taste, though hints of experiences I can recognize first- or secondhand do peek through at many spots (so much so that I did believe you were writing about a real relationship, or at least a real infatuation). The last stanza/segment/division/chunk is really good, but the very best lines of the poem are where Wallace Stevens meets Raymond Chandler:

    Her luxuriant walk was a long slow century
    As she dragged my eyes along the line of my hat brim.

  2. Churchill says

    Orientalism. You can like it without the exoticism: different (not bland), but perhaps not too different; the Bible stories. This time of year makes me think about Lebanon and Israel/Palestine.

  3. Sorry, that sounded bad. I feel better at the end of the day.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      No, I feel you. Different enough to be disorientating (ha!) and shocking, but not so disorientating as to be wholly alien and unrelatable. ‘Ægypta’ is alien, yet is us, no?

  4. Jonathan Webb says

    I liked ‘Tricking my soul in the business of ruin’

    Great story and great poem. Thanks JOB.

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