Where to begin?
As much as any Bedouin, I love a camel –
from its tight little rope of tail all the way to its chin;

love its ruminant askance chew, drooling cud,
the rolled-up hood of its eyebrows,
its studious blink, three-eyelidded and thickly lashed,
and the pillbox-slitted nostrils that it can shut at will;

love its mastery of the slack-change moult –
in a Saharan spring just letting the old fur hang loose
with more than a smack of the covert aristocrat,
piebald in ragged strips and sewn-on leather elbow-pads,
looking far too exalted for your average souk or desert.

I love its whole heads-to-be-held-high comportment –
periscopically sniffy and evenly bad-tempered;
always wishing to take umbrage;

love, indeed, its humpish undiscriminating dislike
of everything, even other camels, and certainly men:
well-manifested in the nifty bite or spit – a noisome regurgitate.
Watch out, too, for its quick mulish back-kick.

A camel hears well enough, but not commands –
has never learnt to take orders freely;
will do no-one the smallest favour;
whines cantankerously when you first mount his back
or weigh him down with baggage –
kneeling for him is a purely utilitarian gesture;
yet then he’ll grunt out – no sweat – his 25 miles trek per day,
lurching with the motion of a swell – very seasick-makingly.

He is the commander of a self-contained survival,
his pantry built-in, but able to chew and in triplicate digest
the thorniest cactus, bones and skin – even, in hard times,
a bridle, or his unmindful owner’s tent and panniers.

I am not at all surprised to learn that in the seven extant poems
                                                of pre-Islamic Araby,
it proves almost impossible to tell whether the poet extols
                                                his mistress or his camel.

                                                Equinox (23)
Poem 5