To the Baths of Azahara

Your water starts to flow with the blood of a kill by lions in the High Atlas mountains.

Spanked into life from the grief of this kill, the brooding stream grows in force to invade the rocks above Ourika then cleaves its way to Marrakech, scattering the land as it goes.

Now it runs as it sprawls, wailing through the valley with the soul of a beloved, destroying the desert, sprouting trees beside it, never believing its insides will soon spill to warm your back.

Trik Jazouli, you count one misstep before falling into the fountain of Ben Slimane, daydreaming on the way to your bath, wondering if the mountain cats have survived.

Here in the ochre city, they have shrunk but are no less vicious.

Rough hewn, lithe spirits of freedom, they wander alleys and rooftops and tread the edges of walls looking for prey, anything that moves like a bird.

Trik, take care to watch the birds. They are quick and reasoned. In groups, they strafe the rooftops, tracing currents of consciousness in brush strokes.

People flow through tributaries of the souk in covered pathways, clay and wooden capillaries bearing greens, radishes, chickens, clotted with bulbous lamps.

Here is where a mule treads on your back, Trik. Warned three times but would not move, you were so entranced by the piles of meat.

You saw them as an edible bestiary, then as young tagines, a menagerie of parts. Legs that can’t run, eyes that only stare, snouts pointing every which way.

The baths of Azahara can’t be far off. Rivers of blood and money will guide you there. Follow the smell of black soap and rose oil.

Sunset reveals spouts of pink light above the clouds. They are stabbed by the Koutoubia, a lone sword in the back of the city, guarding the dead, pointing at God.

Evening calls to prayer fly from every angle, sung a hundred ways. The disparaging voices form a lake of song over the city.

Couscous palace high above the alleys has electric lights that will shock you if you touch them. Do not look for food there, Trik.

And keep your precious body away from strange water. This is the last of your warnings. The dark djinn are starving, unknowing of themselves, clamoring for their reflection.

A deep feud in a congress of clouds asserts the sky. You were born under such a thunderbolt, for collisions are the very source of life. Sky versus mountain. Wind versus voice. Fire versus clay. Water versus rock. Fang versus hide. This song versus your vision.

Your bath will soon be ready. A young boy will help. You must wait for his call.

Artist’s Statement
This poem is a devotional to classical Arabic epic poetry and a summation of the energies and ideas that came to the fore while wandering labyrinthine alleys of the ancient medina in Marrakech. Elaborate displays of spices, lamps, shoes, meat, perfume, whatever it is call out “Partake of me for I am beautiful.” The Baths of Azahara is a real place. The fountain and hammam of Ben Slimane are the oldest of the city. The protagonist is named Trik Jazouli, which roughly translates to “Path of (the person/object of) Jazoul.” In this poem, a tiny passageway from the medina is set vertical and made to wander the alleys and witness the dizzying splendor of the Ochre City, one of the busiest in Africa. In some places, the name for Morocco is still “Marrakech,” perhaps after the Amazigh (indigenous) word Murakush: “Land of God.”

Youssef Alaoui is a Moroccan Colombian American. His family and heritage are an endless source of inspiration for his varied, dark, spiritual, and carnal writings. He has an MFA in Poetics from New College of California. His work has appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Big Bridge, 580 Split, Dusie Press, RIVET Journal, Paris Lit Up, The Opiate, Bioptic Review, Dryland, and was nominated for a Pushcart at Full of Crow. His short story collection Fiercer Monsters was published by Nomadic Press of Oakland, CA. His poetry collection Critics of Mystery Marvel was published by 2Leaf Press of NYC. Based in SLO CA.; twt@iuoala; insta@iuoala777.