On the Silk Road

Poetry for along the way – by Susie Gordon



Over plains and hills we came

for miles. Miles and months we trod west

in a camel train, carrying silks and furs,

jade and ivory, wood and metal

from Chang’an. Turkan, Altai, Tashkent, Palmyre:

miles of tundra, desert, forest, lush brown foothills -

obsidian sky;

each night a caravanserai.


In Damasc by the mosque my father heard it said

there was a lodging ten miles out of town

with a bath-house tiled in topaz, day beds thrown with fleeces,

and a poet who spoke and sang of truths, of secrets.


There we stopped the night, tied our camels up, brought down our wares.

Bats in the twilight swooped 

among the olive trees, velvet as the darkness as we climbed the stairs.


A dinner of figs, baked lamb and raisins was laid out

with sweet wine before we washed at the hammam.

And later, as we rested, the shisha was brought out,

and dancing girls came twirling, languid in their veils,



Just as sleep was curling tendrils of white smoke around us,

a curtain parted, and we saw upon a divan draped in silk

a creature of more singular regard

than I had ever known in any place.

Curls as black as onyx framed her face,

threaded through with coils of silver;

kohl-rimmed eyes, and lips like the curve of a plum.


Seeing how my gaze was fixed on her,

the man beside me whispered gruffly in my ear that she had been an odalisque, a slave,

sold to the sultan, who had set her free

when her storytelling talent conjured in the court a fear of sorcery.


For how long she chanted I cannot recall.

If I could recount the things she spoke of in that dusky hall –

what poetry, what art, the truths she said –

I would commit it to the page and

in doing so

grow rich.


And if my love, my crude infatuation, stretched 

from west to east it would encompass all the skies.

And were it sung by all the birds, cried out by all the beasts,

the world would not be silent for a thousand years.

Susie Gordon is a Shanghai-based writer and editor. She is a contributor to Unsavory Elements, and is writing a novel. Follow Susie on Twitter @carlonseider

This poem is taken from the United Verses anthology, edited by Tom Mangione