Jeremy Lockhart Nelson: ‘Camels’


wear Astrakhan coats
bleached to light brown.

Their humps
are the summits of mountains
that move.

They wake at first light,
prop themselves up

and start their dry day
rubbing their backs
on rough wooden railings.

Harnessed by keepers
they tread with great softness
the desert-deep silence.

Till sweat overtakes them,
their smell has
the nimbus of farmyards.

Sand dunes
and pebble-strewn plains
dwindle behind them.

Sometimes like dogs
they stop to scratch
with hind legs
the itch of their bellies.

Then moving in file
weight flattens their feet
like slippers pressed down.

At the blast of a sand storm,
the flex of their nostrils
filters the air.

In huge barrel-like bodies
they hold small seas,
water clanked up
from underground oceans.

They thrive in long contact
with the wisdom
of the desert’s wide silence

and find in slow walk
the peace of good will.

With periscope heads
they scan the horizon.

Their long necks return
to the hooked shape
of a question.

Neither philosophers
seeking distinction
nor lovers of solitude,

they are content
to find their deep truth
in the company of their kind.

At their firm stride
of good will,
the earth does not quake.

In silence while walking
they are worlds
to themselves.

The horizon’s
one cumulus
shares their slow pace.

Their foreheads wear curls
like great bulls
freed from all passion.

Each knobbled knee
bears a rough callous
like the scar of a tree
where a branch
was ripped off.

At the long journey’s end
their God-given instinct
bows to the glory of life.

Unharnessed at sundown
their rose-tinted bodies
blend with the desert.

And as infinity
absorbs them
into the darkness
of land stretched out,

the stars are opening
above them
where galaxies expand
outpacing light.

Like cattle at rest
they fold up their legs
under the bulk
of their bodies.

like cows at night,
they chew the day’s cud
mixed with saliva

Sleep at last takes them
to Afghanistans
of dreamtime

where in thanks
for constant wise treatment,

they make of themselves
that come to Mahomet.

Jeremy Lockhart Nelson

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