He carries no compass, recognising no need
For an arrow quivering northward from his palm.
Nor does he feel any call for precise coordinates
Beamed from satellites to tell him where he is.
The pattern of the stars is as fixed in his mind
As the junipers that doggedly clamp the embrace
Of their roots into these scree slopes, whose steepness
In the darkest night his feet can read like contours.
By day it’s easier. The high sun makes everything clear,
A clarity so insistent that sometimes he must escape it.
Now it’s the quick scurry of the lizard that informs him,
And the circles woven by falcons in the blanketing sky.
Sometimes his routes are traced along the lined faces
Of the old men along the way who pour him tea;
A stone stairs made the year the gorges were flooded,
A dry stream that leads by midday to the shade of figs.
Thunderstorms among the high peaks, he knows,
Will tumble a wind withershins across the plain below,
But by daybreak the river surging through the gorge
Will have said its piece, and calmed, and moved on.
At times he navigates by landmarks he cannot see
But has heard about from people he has not met:
A foreboding of illness or death along that gorge,
The promise of fresh water below a distant overhang.
He knows winds by their smell, by their texture:
The dust-bearing summer wind that clogs the nose,
The spring southerlies beloved of the high villages
And the iron wind that nomads say can crack a bone.
And always remember, he says, to look for droppings
On any likely path. The goat’s quick path may lead you
To dark, blank walls. But the path slowly trodden by mules
Will always lead to campfires, stories, a place to sleep.