Entering the Desert, Outside Fes, Morocco, from “A Poet’s Progress,” Newtopia Magazine #6

In the afternoon I rest under the branches of a giant tamarisk tree, searching the sky like the locals for signs of rain, chewing on a blade of bamboo. I am silent for a long time as the afternoon slouches by. The valley soaked with rain looks unhappy. Ibrahim says “In Morocco it is always either too hot or raining. There is no other weather here.” Moroccan women of any age are rarely seen during the day, but an hour before sunset they come out and sit on their front steps doing laundry or preparing food, barefoot, gossiping with their neighbors. Sometimes in the evening the women of the village—young and old—gather under trees while the boys and men sit in chairs around an open door, listening to talk radio, smoking and arguing. My notebook is open but I’m not writing. The splatter of rain on stone. The gray sky. The yellowish light. The Moroccan rain melts instantly into the Sahara. The air is colder. Surfaces shimmer. Silver windows. Wrought iron railings. A metallic sense of black. Red and white tiles shining, the air smelling of damp stone, wet rubber and wet leather, wet cedarwood, wet limestone and adobe. A frog hops from under the dripping greenery to cross the cool cement. The buzzards have stopped singing, bats circle the palm trees. There is lightning without thunder deeper in the desert. The rain is coming down thicker than before, snapping hard against the windows. The room is black and it is dark outside—the fuse has blown again. I strike a match. There is for a moment something yellow two inches long scurrying across the tiles into the shower, something shivering in the light—then a darkness that is somehow even more complete.

Jewish Quarter, Fes

September 19, 2010: Ouarzazate, Morocco

The air conditioner in my room suddenly starts banging and hammering and clanging loudly, pieces of white plastic shooting out of it onto the floor. I rush to the remote control and shut it off, go out to dinner, and stop at the front desk on the way back to my room. I explain the situation to the desk clerk. He asks me if I turned it off and I tell him “of course” and he tosses a passkey to one of the guys hanging out at the desk, who takes me back to my room. When we get there he unlocks the door and leaves it wide open and walks over to the air conditioner and turns it on and it starts right up and isn’t making the horrible clanging sound and he turns it off. I look behind the TV to show him the bits of plastic that came out of it and the only thing there is a puddle of water. “That’s funny,” I say. “No it’s not funny” he says and finds the TV remote control and goes through the channels one by one until he comes to channel six. It’s a sports channel and he points to it and says, “Foosball.” “But?” I say, picking up the air conditioner remote control. “No,” he shouts, wagging his finger back and forth in front of my face and taking the remote control from me and putting it in a drawer. He points to the TV, “Foosball.” Then he’s gone, leaving the door wide open. I stand for a minute wondering if he is coming back. Is it safe to use the air conditioner? I don’t want to watch foosball in Arabic. A modestly dressed young woman is seated in a television studio, her black curly hair falling past her shoulders. Across the table from her sits a short angry man. When he stops shouting at her, she answers his questions looking down at her clasped hands, at her forearms crossed upon the table. He interrupts, startling her. She swings her head away from him, waving away his question, but he catches her attention by snapping at her again. She stutters, attempting to qualify something she’s just said, which only makes him madder. The atmosphere is claustrophobic—she backs away from him as if he’s physically threatening her. She becomes more careful and deliberate in what she says, her left hand waving less confidently, her left index finger tapping at the table for emphasis, the movements of her head becoming small nervous leaps away from him as he continues to yell at her. Then she snaps and turns around to face him, cornered, hands spread across the tabletop as if they are holding her upright, like a cat striking a pose that says “I will not retreat”—or a Grizzly making herself as large as possible, barking now, protecting her cubs. I turn off the TV and pick up the novel I’m reading—The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles—leaving the door open in case he’s coming back. After about fifteen minutes, there are sounds in the courtyard of a couple returning to their room next to mine, so I get up and close my door. But it’s the kind of door that won’t clasp unless it’s locked, so I just leave it open a tiny bit so that if he comes back it won’t be like I locked him out. I read until I’m sleepy and finally go to sleep around eleven. When I wake up, no one’s been in my room as far as I can tell. I turn on the air-conditioner and it works perfectly, and continues to work perfectly until my last day in Ouarzazate. Suddenly it begins to make the same loud crunching noise and pieces of white plastic begin shooting out of it again. I turn it off and look behind the TV and see that the white things shooting out of it aren’t pieces of plastic, they’re chunks of ice.

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