Dancing Dust

Poems by Mollie Caird (1922-2000)


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And Hazael said, 'But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?'

My name is Hazael, and it means ‘God sees’.
They used to call me Son of Nobody.
The dynasty I broke were sons of God,
Benhadad, Benhadad, Benhadad, sons of God,
And so shall my son be.
Does God then see?  What is it Hadad sees?
He sees my fertile gardens richly starred
With scarlet cyclamens, anemones,
And terebinths alive with bulbuls singing;
The glinting goldfish in the great bronze bowl,
Figures of alabaster, jasmine vines,
My milk-white horses shaking silver bridles
Among the apricot and walnut trees,
The very rivers, Pharpar and Abana,
Watering this green place at my desire.
He sees my royal saluki hound, proud, swift,
Bounding after the hyrax and the hare,
The golden tassls of his silky ears
Soft as the fringes of that quiet pillow
That pressed the dead king’s face.
What of Elisha’s God?  What does he see?
What can he see but stones and stunted thorns,
The rasping raven and the sharp-winged kite,
Eager for carrion.  Those who live in deserts
Know only barren gods.

Does not a sunflower turn its great bold face
To mirror the sun, its image and begetter?
So can a prosperous king reflect his God.
Have not my deeds been godlike?  I have made
A shining city where a thousand gravers
Damascene with gold a thousand swords.
Hark where the shuttles rattle through the looms,
Look where the glowing silks festoon the alleys
Between the dye-vats and the weavers’ shops;
Smell the sweet cedar-wood fresh from the adze,

And count the myriad snowflakes sifting down
From ivory-carvers’ knives.  Triumphant ring
The busy hammers patterning bright brass.
And all among this thriving, thronging place
The stately caravans move slowly on ―
Strange-tongued, turbaned men urging tall camels
From distant provinces with precious loads,
With pearls and tincts and spices, through the hills
To Middle Sea.  For I have captured Gath,
Sent Shalmaneser crawling home again,
Trampled Philistia, had the king of Judah
Come whining with his ransom in his hand,
Buying his peace with his ancestral treasures,
With sacred vessels of that temple where
They keep Jehovah in a little box.

Is not Damascus one great miracle?
What has Elisha done compared with this?
Sweetened the water in some brackish well,
Filled an old woman’s jar with rancid oil,
Conjured a dozen or so of barley loaves,
Made an axe swim, and jostled back to life
A little boy with sunstroke.
Is such a one to frighten me with God?
Stick to your cobbler’s last, Elisha, frighten
The peasant children with a brace of bears;
Let kings be kings and rule their own affairs.

Sometimes at dawn I ride out to the marshes,
And my saluki runs along with me;
Those tasselled ears streaming behind remind me ―
Enough of that!  I shut my eyes to blot
That image, but the early sun strikes through
Tight eyelids, and I see blood-red, blood-red.
This is a strange place in the misty morning,
The reed-beds and the limpid pools a-quiver
With crying birds.  My hound put up the flocks,
A multitude of glossy ibises,
Millions of spoonbills drifting over the marsh
Like flakes of pink fire, wind-blown rose-petals
That flash and float and settle.
Innumerable lives.  Who counts them?  Are they numbered?

Slowly I turn my horse.  Here in this waste
No human habitation, only one
Black bedouin tent, past which my dog, uneasy,
Slinks silent, tail down.  There, beside it, sits
A shepherd shrouded in his burnous, hood
Pulled over shadowed face.
I do not know him, and I do not know
If he is watching me.  Now safely past,
Up-tails my hound, I laugh, and fling a stone.
Where are you, old Elisha, do you pray?
Call to your desert God, Elisha, say
‘Thy servant was a dog, and had his day’.

The text forming the subtitle of this poem is from 2 Kings 8:13

The Dancing Dust and other poems, 1983