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Tales of the World

Paul Otteson
Stories Home

One evening in Luxor, I was enjoying a thoroughly western drink beside a rooftop pool at one of the better hotels when I heard enchanting music echoing over the city. I bid my travel partners farewell for a time, and set off to find the source. I wound my way through the lanes of the city for about twenty minutes before I came upon an amazing concert. A small stage was set up in a little dead end.

I was inspired to write a poem -- which is always risky for a non-poet, but is a highly recommended pursuit for travelers of every stripe. To record the details of a travel experience on film or in a journal is easy. To capture the feel of the experience is more difficult and highly personal.

Like a spark in a bed of coals
light to heat
Egypt flared for me.

Following the tantalizing echo
of voice and pipe
I wander the dim, dusty city
to stumble upon a bared soul
a joyous gathering
two hundred and their music.

They seem to say come
you have found us
all is well
and I, a stranger, am drawn in
like a prize to be enjoyed
or a child to be capered.

And then
as though my arrival was awaited and required
though of course it was not
the music hints itself alive
the flute catching wisps of air
sending it spinning in small rushes
the singer teasing the people with
lyrical fragments
laid a cappella upon the alleyway.

And the happy
in long pauses between.

Then from the rhythmless ground so prepared
the song forms like a striking match
and a seductive
and oh so perfectly appropriate music
becomes in a moment
the drums snapping as though
the flute embodied now as
mistress of the atmosphere
braiding the breeze
until each strand, drawn from each person
is woven to one.

And the master voice
reverbing brilliant
hot and flowing like the
sun-baked Nile
repetitive and steady like the
forever cycle of Ra
pitched to sing the sound beneath the
life of Luxor
capturing, somehow, the essence
of an Islamic call to prayer
and showing it for wonder.

The crowd sings too
in love with the moment.

And from time to time
the musical breeze rises
the singer presses
his jeweled eyes sparkling
his smiling voice lifting
his gentle hands offering
then the people's pleasure bursts full flower in
pure and easy outpouring.

And I am in it
and may never be again.