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Moroccan interior

- by Catherine Fletcher

Do I dare to touch? What will touching bring?

In between chapters I glance at villages, fences, railroad tracks, crowds of children passing, hills baked by Maghreb sun. The hiss of a soda can opening comes from the man in the safari jacket opposite me. As he waves his hand to move the air, a young Berber leans across the bench, "C'est ton papa?" "Ouai." The train chugs toward the interior.

Can I remember much? I'm afraid to search further.

I climb step after step. European day trippers follow me, their T-shirts semaphores of yellow, pink, red. Near a basketball hoop stripped of its net groups of boys rapid fire: "Bonjour—hello—hola?!" I turn to look for my father—the back of his jacket is drenched with sweat. We reach the fortifications, and the old man chuckles, "Meet me at the casbah."

I'm not grieving, no.

Dad points to a row of skinned lambs hanging at the butcher amidst the afternoon market's rat-tat. Voices haggle over clanging smiths' hammers, clicks of weavers' looms. We wander through Fès el-Bali's passageways, pause at a rug shop, wade through the tannery's ammonia cloud. Our guide insists on a donkey ride: the groaning beast takes me jogging through dusty streets. Over my shoulder Dad vanishes into the crowd.

In these moments I lose and gain.

The madrasa's windows are shuttered today. Its courtyard tiles resonate beneath my feet. A water clock trickles behind an arch. Tobacco burns. My father's pipe? I turn and see only shadows behind screens. "Catherine Ann!" He summons me into the shade for a glass of orange juice.

Lies, all lies—literary reverie.
False details, snapshots never taken, yet—
truth too?

"My father is in Morocco," I tell myself
And yearn to connect longitude, line,
Points in time that will sweep me back,
Draw the map
to the center
of the fragile world where my father remains.

Call me home,
End this game,
Undo time's tricks,
Give me a ferry to navigate the Straits.
--wait for me.
I can see the coast of Africa.
It's a clear day.

Meet me on July 22nd –Tangier,
At the Hotel Rembrandt, Boulevard Mohammed Cinq...
Can you hear me?
(Always half-deaf)
Will memory's natural progress take him away?
Can I slow the fade?
Sometimes he's nearly present.
What's left for me to gain?
He's been dead for years.
What weird hermetism makes me return to those days, that place?

"C'est ton papa?" "Ouai."
So I board the train again for the interior...

Catherine Fletcher

Catherine Fletcher (Editor) is the coordinator of the Endangered Language Initiative, a multi-year project of the New York-based People's Poetry Gathering dedicated to document, disseminate, and translate poetry in endangered, contested, and threatened languages.