Volume 22, Number 4

The Sixth Pillar

Do not follow vain desires; for verily he who prospers is preserved from lust, greed and anger.
            —Abu Bakr

Through the haze of heat they come,
black and silent in the distant shimmer;
the simmering melt of sun that blurs all distance
and smothers sound in this unforgiving tongue of sand.
As they approach, they rip the air with rifle shouts,
raucous and alive. They pass in brash caravans
blast past on a slick, steely hajj;
a pilgrimage that starts and ends with here.
Sons of sand, they are, but more distant now;
they laugh but quite unlike the old
and rough-tongued goatherds, leathered
by a life in unforgiving white and heat.
Their history is quite transformed, transmuted
to a liquid black that spawns acceptable plastic
and comfortable salaries—and a second god.
White-steepled minarets still finger their city,
but now they share the earth and heavens with souqs,
filled skyful, brimming with easy, hollow gold and cold control.
This false worship is stacked with more cosy gods
and prophets than any austere, five-pillared god can erode.

—Nigel Holt