Prairie Rubaiyat: Part II
By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer
Where the Breezes Blow
The wind blowing across Saskatchewan’s desert waste
Blew me misery and hardship and a bitter taste,
Made me forget my youthful thrills and joys
After I grew in years and worldly ways embraced.
In past years, I hunted on the cold western plain,
Wild animals for pleasure or for monetary gain.
Awakening came on the bloody field of battle
When I was the hunted waiting to be slain.
An antelope gliding across the prairie green,
A coyote eating his stolen chicken unseen,
And a farmer ploughing his rock-filled field,
A perfect scene on that upper movie screen.
Biting are the winds which across prairies blow
Carrying with them the misery of ice and snow.
The chilled traveller asks: Why seek heaven?
Is it not better that place where fires glow?
At my parents’ feet, I listened to many a tale
About that land from where the prophets hail. (1)
Why they left to dwell in the cold barren west
I know not, but did wealth over history prevail?
In a Western church the voice of a preacher cries,
And in an Eastern mosque a muezzin’s voice replies. (2)
For man struggling on earth since the dawn of time
Is hypnotized, and on that unknown world relies.
In stolen Indian lands I dug a burial mound
Where it was said, rich treasures could be found.
In later years I knew, alike they were
He who steals the land or takes what’s underground.
A bottle of forbidden booze in that field of wheat.
A book of poetry and stolen sandwiches for a treat,
And two lovers cooled by the gentle prairie breeze.
An earthly heaven, if the One above is discreet.
The western trails I trudged in blowing snow,
And the drought-shrivelled grain I used to mow
Are now sad memories of my yesteryears.
Why can I not forget them? Ask Him who knows.
Hark! Hear the wind blowing in the prairie wild.
That sound which haunted me as a growing child.
Unnumbered were the times it aroused my fears.
In those years, the world of terror on me smiled.
The cold winds which chilled my youthful bones,
Blew across a barren land of dust and stones,
Creating a harsh world of sorrows and pains.
I can still hear my parents’ sighs and moans.
In western villages when the beer flowed free
Men sang, ‘Bury me not on the lone prairie.’
Were they only words of anxiety and fear, or
Did they feel the afterlife more than you or me?
In bygone years, no plough touched the prairie sod,
And in this virgin grassy land very few men trod
Till from across the oceans conquering hordes came
To destroy the handiwork of Him who gave the nod.
They say the palms swaying in the blazing sun,
And the snows of the northern lands are one.
I know its not true even if some say its so.
Was it not from under palms human history sprung?
Both, the wintery gales which our bodies pierce,
And the teaching of godly men, bring us fears.
Why do we loathe the one and the other praise,
All of us Adam’s children from peasants to emirs? (3)
Ripening grain swaying in the summer breeze,
And gardens overflowing with their tender peas
Are but a little link in the chain of life.
So it has been from the days of Hercules.
In this land, Indian and buffalo once did roam,
And men were free to call any place their home,
Then conquerors came to free and civilize, but
Was it not prison to put each one under a dome?
Gophers and rabbits, the joy of prairie life
Are hunted by men with rifle, trap and knife.
Why is there no pity? Was there no promise made
To them for earth, and the unknown afterlife?
Once, prairie rivers flowed without their dam,
And in their waters men and animals swam,
Then came man with his machines to remake
The landscape, unchanged since the days of Abraham.
Once, in the virgin forests trod the Mohawk,
A proud hunter carrying his stone tomahawk,
Then came traders with gaudy trinkets and booze
To erase his pride and tales of the mighty hawk.
A cowboy roaming the west is a prairie bard
Whose western tunes our tortured ears bombard.
For some it is joy, for others piercing pain.
Remember, that which lifts souls, never discard.
In my adolescent years, I rode the western freight
In freezing cold, without food, such was my fate.
Now in luxury I live but it will not fade away
The picture of biting cold and meals I never ate.
Often in the winter cold, I heard mother weep,
Crying for a better life for us who were asleep.
I ask, ‘Is it fair, some must starve and suffer
While others, their ripened harvest reap’?
Cruel were my schoolmates, taunting me ‘infidel’,
And ‘foreigner’ who came, in their land to dwell.
They must’ve all feared the strange and unknown,
The bully and even the beautiful mademoiselle.
On the prairie plains, a stranger is a friend
For on each other, scattered farmers depend.
T’is the same. Country folks, no matter whether
They be, bedouins or pioneers, hospitality extend.
Long did I bear dust storms in Canada’s west,
And blowing thistles which that land infest.
In those days, paradise was in other lands.
0h! How green are the fields over yonder crest.
Did Indians live in ignorance and unbelief,
And did they rob and kill from brave to chief?
They are here no more, you have their lands,
Walk with shame when they say you are the thief.
Hiawatha’s pride was a code for every tribe.
To his lifestyle, every brave ascribed,
Then invaders came with gods and books and guns
To modernize, but also teach the ways to bribe.
Cold and barren is the northern land I dislike.
To it man came for a little gold to strike.
It was a fleeting mirage which passed away.
Today, are there men or gold in the Klondike?
The hot wind is playing with a sandy dune.
In a hayloft two lovers were beginning to spoon.
Each has been programmed to follow a chosen way
By Him who is manipulating both sun and moon.
Many were the winter nights we would retire
To sleep around a stove made red by fire.
Man loves to feel the heat of a biting flame
Whether it be hearth or a passionate spitfire.
Dreadful are the prairies in a winter storm.
Shivering are its humans, trying to keep warm,
But soothing are their dreams of sunny isles
Where from the cold tourists flock and swarm.
In far Saskatchewan, I heard church bells chime,
A friend in Syria heard words of an imam rhyme. (4)
Each had a message, a message that was clear,
Man to be different is an unforgivable crime.
Birds flying south searching for waters warm.
Geese in formation escaping the winter storm.
Man, struggling in the cold, bemoaning his fate.
Was He just? Why was not migration uniform?
See the cows gather, fearing the coming storm,
And see how the chickens in the barnyard swarm.
All are terrorized of the dark unknown, as man
Has from the days when he wrote in cuneiform. (5)
By a dry river bed, there bloomed many a rose
Beautifying the prairie lands, ere winter snows.
Wait! We too mature, blossom then fade away
When the inevitable wind of our winter blows.
Strange as it may seem I never tasted the grape,
Nor did I have the chance its influence to escape.
For in the arid western plains only thistle blew,
No vine to arouse our souls or our morals rape.
In the Alberta wheat fields, men would toil
To harvest the golden kernels from the soil.
I ask, ‘Would they have sweated to reap the grain
If they knew that below the land was the oil?’
Still, still I cannot forget the blowing dust
To which in my tender years I could not adjust.
I roamed the wide world searching for its joys,
Yet, that still the piercing sand my soul incrust.