Shaqti opens the gold reckoning case of his mouth to knock back coffee.
‘My teeth are only worth a concubine’s room’ he says.
Dented blue-grey eyes laughing over Ray Bans. London ’77. Zurich ’79.
A Tripolitanian café in the hills of Bohemia. ’88-90.
Shaqti the shot bird, the tour guide who cannot recover his way.
Who, without water, would not drink from the sea,
And, without food, would not catch a fish.
Shaqti who swallowed a mouthful of blood on the death of King Idris.
Who mourns that every country cannot move as one spirit:
‘I am alone and my country is alone in all the tribes of its country’.
Shaqti still drinking coffee as if it were a carafe of metaphysical wine,
Still seventeen waving a blooded flag from a blazing oilrig.
Who chides the Sudanese as conscripted hirelings.
‘These scavengers won’t go home’ he says,
Breaking the allegro of a tour through the Old City,
‘Now Sudan doesn’t want them and Africa doesn’t want them.’
Two schoolchildren pin a wriggling Sudanese boy to the wall
And they hold him there and spit out their demands.
Shaqti at the water hyacinth with the tears of Apollo.
Shaqti the unpaid engineer who appears humble and kind
But has bargained too much and lost too much.
Who strokes the face of a MISSING poster at Hammamkbir and says:
‘Look at this boy. He is my son’.
Photo of James Byrne in Sabratha, Libya by Carolyn Forché