There is the legend of the
Queen of the Islands,
Malika Al Jazeera,
A myth…. or so
till one moon inspired
night in the labyrinth of Algiers.
“La Belle Dame Algiers”
I sailed along the Berber coast,
past the shores of Tangiers and
the caves of Hercules, veering
off the cape of Oran, until
a storm wrecked my boat on
the jagged shoals of Algiers.
I staggered to shore
and waited for the storm to pass.
A light appeared from the distant villa,
the curtains blew back and
a woman stood on the balcony
dressed in white djellaba.
The fragrance of jasmine drew
me towards the villa in the Casbah.
An old Berber woman with tattoos
of the high Atlas welcomed
me at the gate that had the
silver hand of Fatima.
“Bienvenue. Ahlan wa Sahalan bik.”
She lead me inside to a marble
hammam with mosaics and tile,
steaming hot from the waters.
The sounds of the Oud in
a minor dream led me
further in the labyrinth.
The woman in the window
walked into the marble Hammam.
We sipped mint tea,
ate dates from the
oasis of Ourgala.
“Yes,” she said. “Love is remembrance,
allow the sensation
to melt on your tongue.”
I could not refuse her gracious
invitation to love …
as we ventured into the maze of memories.
Her silk robe fell
like lotus blossoms in the April breeze.
My lady of the Islands laid me down
on the warm mosaic stone and
massaged this traveler’s aching bones
we soaked in the hot steaming
waters scented with lavender and juniper.
We were Layla and Mejnoon,
but I was the mad one, driven
to madness by your loving.
My body washed and rubbed
with the red ocher henna.
then soothed by your touch
The oud with Andalusian melodies
filtered from the street below
sifting like a stream of light.
Pigeons cooed and evening prayer call
danced like grace notes,
in a minor arpeggio.
My calloused hands caressed
valleys of tenderness
with frankincense oils from Yemen.
Our fingers eagerly
unwound the knotted spools
of memory and pain.
My tongue discovers
bitter and sweet,
as I caress the perfect pearl.
the ocean of your loving
melting under my tongue.
She whispered, “Love redeems all our pain,
even the pain too bitter to surrender.”
Moonlight danced across the sky
thru the trace of clouds.
and glanced on her luminous brown eyes.
We sat in the oriel leaning
against silk pillows from Fez,
and smoked a dram of opium.
The sweet embers glowed and we slipped
into the skiff of memories….
She sang me a song about a Lady from Algiers
whose lovers brought her purple robes from Lebanon
and pearls from Oman.
She sang of soldiers who came to these shores
broken by war and mended with love,
and sanctified in the waters of Lethe.
We sailed fearlessly from
this shore of knowing
into the wider sea of loving.
“Love is discovery and remembrance. N’est-ce pas?
she laughed and we sailed further
past the first light of the Maghrabia.
At dawn, I was awakened by prayer call
from the Ketchouia Mosque at the edge of the Casbah.
Wood fires lit in the haze of dawn
and the smell of bread baking filled the air.
I awoke alone and wrapped
in her silk white robes.
In the time of death and birth
we are swaddled and reborn.
What was born
on that night?
What died and surrendered
I n the memory of loving?
My most gracious and tender
la Belle Dame
my beautiful lady of the Island
Je t’aime, toujour ma belle dame
La belle dame de l’Algérie
Malika Al Jazeera
My Queen of the Islands.
How could I have ever left you?