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And then Abdullah: "True, Allah's precious son, We trade in naught men feed their bellies on But we have wares to thrill brave men, To make your youth see what use bodies are, To make your women blush That they have no such men."
"What are these magic wares?"
"Why we have here an Arab youth Who seems possessed of wings, Jumping three camels in a row."
"So! In this very village there's a lad Who jumps four camels With half the wind it takes you, telling of your boy."
Scoff followed boast and back again Until the chief arose, Saying to the lesser chiefs That they should call the local tribe To meet beside the caravanserai Before another sun went down To see if these vain wandering men Could do one half the deeds they boasted.
So we met at sundown, Our brown men stripped Except for linen clouts.
We tumbled, jumped, made human pyramids, And whirled as only Dervish whirl.
Then as a climax the village boy essayed To span the four trained camels Who at Abdullah's soft-spoke word Moved just enough apart to make the boy fall short.
And then our sinewed lad would make the leap, The camels crowding close together At another soft command.
Our lad making good his jump, The populace would grant our greater skill; A goatskin filled with wine, And honey mixed with melted b.u.t.ter Was offered us within the caravanserai.
Then we moved out beyond the town And pitched our tents of camels' hair, Rising before the sun to face the friendless desert wastes Until we reached another habitation on the camel trail, I (who played the dumb boy of the tribe Lest my Christian tongue betray me) Trudging behind with all the salary-- Chasing the desert after two new sheep, Our net receipts for that Moroccan one-night stand.
Now twice each day within the Hippodrome I, a buffoon in absurd clothes, Strive to make the thousands laugh; And when my act is done There comes the tread of camels' feet, Followed by Slayman Ali and his Arab troupe, Who tumble, jump and build pyramids Before a canvas Sphinx upon a painted desert....
When I saw Slayman last He was a boy Chasing the sheep with me Beneath Morocco's moon.
Tell me, where dwells romance, anyway?
In Manhattan, or Arabian, nights?
I once knew a man Who'd met Duse, (Or so he said) And talked with her; As she came down a windy street He turned a corner Headlong into her.
"I am so sorry," Duse said, "I was looking at the stars."
My envy of that man Withstood the years Until one day I met a Dane Who'd talked with Henrik Ibsen: This man, with head bowed to the wind, Was walking up a Stockholm way When 'round the corner came the seer, And he plumped into him.
And that great mind Whose thinking moved the world Surveyed my friend Through his big eyes And slowly spoke: "Since when have codfish come to land?"
With all the awe One has for those who've known the great, These two I've envied Until the other day When blundering 'round behind the scenes I stepped upon Pavlowa's toe.