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Gnawa Boy, Marrakesh, 1968

The maker has marked another boy to die:
his thin body between two sheets,
black legs jutting out onto the stone floor,
the tips of his toenails translucent as an eye.
Gray clumps of skin, powder-light,
like dust on the curve of his unwashed heel
and the face, swollen, expanding like a lung.
At its center, the sheet lifts and curves:
his body’s strangeness, even there.
One palm faces down to show the black
surface of hand, the other facing up
white as his desert’s sky.
                                      As if underwater,
he passes from that room into the blue
porcelain silence of the hall, where the light-
skinned women have gathered in waiting:
no song of final parting, no wailing
ripped holy from their throats:
the women do not walk into the sun,
they hide their bodies from it
(those pale wrists, those pale temples):
they do not walk the streets,
they do not clutch their own bodies,
they do not hit themselves in grief—

[The Gnawa are a black people indigenous to West and North Africa.]