Red Sea, Eritrea 1994


White skin, Red Sea.

They meet post-holocaust

At the ends of shell-pocked streets,

While crows corrupt the calm to echo

Ghost gun cracks, phantom rebel prayers,

Their sweat, the anticipation of furious bombers

Pelting acid orange from the sun-bleached sky.


Away from rhythmic hammers

Reassembling lives from scarred fragments,

The sea moves us to a hot horizon of polar emptiness,

And comfortable guides steer round mirage islands

Rediscovering the familiar, the old necessities,

Unable to say they are mystified

By our language, our luggage, our lives.


Anchored by the heat, we mask land eyes,

And plunge, white skinned into Red Sea.

Sun shards light new worlds below. They wait, accessible,

For the revelation through magic glass as heads dip,

Breaths' rhythm loud in skulls while we hang

Suspended over a silent marine mobile,

Communing with improbable fish.


Emerging, salt-crusted, we scorch dry.

Soft voices grumble Tigrinya, hands fly shuttles

Skipping over torn nets, lines lowered for small fry.

And in the busy stillness, the stove is lit, fish become food.

Small Boy brings chai, serves all, waits to eat, watches

To see if we are, after all, the same,

If our play creates the same hunger as their work.


After night falls, dreaming in briny darkness,

We pencil letters to an angel. Paradise to Paradise.

Knowing that he shares this heaven, we send them

Via star-sodden galaxies that press us to the deck.

copyright K.F. Hawkins


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