Crossing the Desert

reedBy Dee Dee Risher

The aboriginal people of the Kalahari desert break and bury ostrich shells in the sand. The extreme temperatures cause condensation inside the eggshells. As the nomads move over the desert, they survive by drawing drops of moisture from these shells with reeds.

You must prepare well,
Rise in the knowing dark,
Go down to the river,
And listen to the reeds.
A single one will call you.

Take your knife, freshly sharpened.
Cut the reed cleanly
At the place earth meets air.
Wrap it in a scrap of parchment,
Thread it inside your tunic,
Against your heart.

This is your life
When you step off the rim of the earth
Onto the soft body of pathless sand
Trapped under unwavering sun.
In the distance, you will see a single tree
Brittle against the sky.
Do not be fooled.
Dream of fresh green leaves
Holding their breath
By a river.
Dream of trees heavy with dates.

Only the dreams will show you the way,
Though the journey folds years on you like old skin.
Only the dreams can teach you
How to lay yourself down on the inscrutable sand
And hear below the surface
The whisper of a broken ostrich shell–
Found, blessed, then buried to trap
The cold night air and press it to dew.

Listen to water draw into itself,
Small beads of grace,
Waiting for your ear,
For the sound of the reed
Slipped from your heart,
The parchment unwrapped,
The soft tissue of the sand parting.
Only the dreams will bring
The water up, shining like diamonds,
Into your open mouth.

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