They all followed her, mesmerised,
to the sooty innards of the kasbah
slanting up the side of the hill
as if fleeing an ancestral tsunami.
Confronting the steppe, its echo,
towering above it, the city was
doubly castled, with slit avenues
breaking free of the older town.
Apple-tree covers along the walls,
mountains holding on the roots
of the seemingly endless steppe,
it was a shape-shifting, eerie place.
Then the voice of the beggar called.
Now soft, now commandeering, with
chanted words and many tones, it
drew them underground to a catacomb.
The city of snow leopards welcomed them,
its huge door grinning wide as they were
robbed at the gates by friendly guards
who were quick to recognize foreigners
and suggest that there might be a way
to skip ahead of the queue. Marco’s
small jewels were taken, and so their
weapons, as well as their good humour.
At night, thanks to the charity of a
clear sky, they found refuge in a moon
illuminated cemetery. Setting their
fears aside, they slept on hard stone.
Twice robbed, they lost clarity at dawn,
once finding out that all that they had owned
had been taken from them while they rested.
Looking at the mountains, they stood alone.
As they felt a great sadness, they were
approached by a street beggar. Her eyes
were sharp with lunacy, a mirror where
one might find measure to one’s misery.
She spoke with guttural tones, a series of
half-digested words, in a strange idiom.
Even if they could not always tell if she
was talking to them, they froze gorgonized.