Once, the night
by Val Trullinger
Once, the night desert was nearly our death.
Sand ran in sheets of sharp water down our
dry skin; flooded through my clothes and parched mouth.
Adan cursed me. Hot wind whipped my mare’s black
hair, and her bridle sang, as Bilal prayed.
His muezzin’s call now: God, give us water.
It was two days since we last drank water.
Two days off our path. I wondered when death
would come to claim us. Perhaps if we prayed
devoutly, Bilal said, we would find our
way to a riyadh. But in a storm’s black
night, all prayer is only sounds in a mouth.
Giving up on God, I covered my mouth,
the better to keep my hot breath’s water.
Adan fell deeply into a cold black
mood, muttering how he might bring me death.
We had long since passed any hunger; our
swift end a fate for which I now half-prayed.
Through the wind, I saw a dark wall, and prayed.
A sharp shout burst from Adan’s cracking mouth,
and he scaled the smooth walls using our
backs. His voice was sweeter than fresh water,
then silent. Had he been found by his death?
I lifted Balil, a shadow in black.
>From inside the walled garden’s leaves, all black
I heard Balil, who — of course! — knelt and prayed,
giving thanks for God’s mercy, staying death;
while Adan’s curses flowed, a river’s mouth
of profane praise for the fountain’s water.
Hands raw, I climbed in the garden of our
shaken faith and doubt, where at last all our
hungers were sated. But seeing the black
desert outside — with no hope, no water –
how many others were exhausted, prayed
out? The water dried to dust in my mouth.
I saddled my mare and rode to race death,
to tell the lost of water and of our
lives spared from death, in a black night’s garden.
Come, I prayed, my mouth dry; find what you seek.