Lost By Way of Tchin-Tabarden by Susan Rich

Republic of Niger

Nomads are said to know their way by an exact spot in the sky,

the touch of sand to their fingers, granules on the tongue.

But sometimes a system breaks down. I witness a shift of light,

study the irregular shadings of dunes. Why am I traveling

this road to Zinder, where really there is no road? No service station

at this check point, just one commercant hawking Fanta

in gangrene hues. C'est formidable! he gestures --- staring ahead

over a pyramid of foreign orange juice.

In the desert life is distilled to an angle of wind, camel droppings,

salted food. How long has this man been here, how long

can I stay contemplating a route home?

It's so easy to get lost and disappear, die of thirst and longing

as the Sultan's three wives did last year. Found in their Mercedes,

the chauffeur at the wheel, how did they fail to return home

to Ágadez, retrace a landscape they'd always believed?

No cross-streets, no broken yellow lines; I feel relief at the abandonment

of my own geography. I know there's no surveyor but want to imagine

the aerial map that will send me above flame trees, snaking

through knots of basalt. I'll mark the exact site for a lean-to

where the wind and dust travel easily along my skin,

and I'm no longer satiated by the scent of gasoline. I'll arrive there

out of balance, untaught; ready for something called home.

by Susan Rich

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