Writing Ghazals on a Pawnee River

(Becoming a Naturalist, Part 43)

by Jack Phillips


Pahuk, holy Pawnee Hill rises above the Kickatuus. Photo by Robert Smith.

Afternoon sun leads our band to cool waters below this holy hill

as it did the natives praying here and with us in flesh and longing echoes.  

A young woman finds purple bare feet in the river

on her skin draws wet indigo worthy of henna.

Appears a ghazal (in Arabic ‘young doe’) playing long fingers

of clay makes a shiny-slip figure reminding of lotus to lay in rushes for deities here.

Form finds flesh in the hands of young men among us

bending roots washed supple by this river into ephemeral remembrance.

Two philosophers cast translucent lines across currents

consider the essence and nature of color best served by poetry agreed.

Those in yoga-posing follow curve of current and sky each one in spirit freed

in willow-shade reclining, clay swallows looping our kiting souls pale gazelles in blue.

Now come ghazals in bounding couplets inky doe-prints on paper

but on the Kickatuus a freer form they take afar from Babylon’s waters.

*The ghazal is a useful poetic form for exploring the local and primal energies that enliven us and for releasing the boundless energies within. The first time I chased wild gazelles was in 1980 near the village of Daburiyya in Galilee. My friend Samir wanted to shoot them; I wanted only to admire them. We jeepishly followed them as they floated and skipped over the verdant hills. With that memory I understand why the Arabic form of poetry so-named for them takes the form of bounding couplets touching lightly on the page.