Walt Whitman Visits the Souks of Fez by Gary Nabhan


Walt Whitman Visits the Souks of Fez

Praise be to Allah/Yahweh, whose spirit rises like incense
From the shadows of the alley ways of the ancient souks
Where artisans strain to release the sacred in wool, wood and herb:

The tanners grunting as the dye the goat and camel hides
While their wounded nostrils even in the middle of the night
Cannot shake the dank and musky smell of all the plants—
Saffron, indigo, sage—that they must use to tint the leather
After hair, fur and wool are stripped from the hide.

The weavers of silk, mohair, cotton and wool humming as
Their whose forearms push the shuttles across their massive looms
Five hundred, a thousand times a day the shuttle also hums
For only in this repetition does the pattern express itself in cloth.

The spice merchants wail, for as keepers of the cures and curses
They must readily concede that all the aphrodiasiacs they sell
Will hardly help any woeful or wounded couple wedded very long,
But perhaps the teas, the curries, musks and myrrhs may get them through…

The carpenters, the woodworkers pounding hammers like drums
While shaping rough slabs of cedar into the sturdiest of wonders:
Mantles, mirror covers, doors, chairs, racks, hooks, benches and tables
That may all keeping standing longer than any of their buyers.

Most of all, listen to the hawkers, watch for the pickpockets,
Be wary of the snake oil salesmen, pimps and charlatans,
But praise them as well, for as we struggle to hang on to all that we have
They warn is of all the evidence is to the contrary, for we can never
Achieve that possibility. Let the stuff go, let the stuff go!

May they help us smell the spirit rising
Out of this material world!


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