Fez Postcard / Call to Prayer

By: Jacqueline Osherow

Featured art: North Avenue Market by Aaron Bohrod

A jeweler holds a magnet to his silver
to prove its purity (there’s no pull)

A seller wraps a package for a buyer
who’s never quite assented to the sale

A flash and then another as a weaver
shuttles spun agave silk through wool

and then a blast of sound / a change of air
at once the market’s hustle-bustle trivial

Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar
even if business does go on as usual.

The world seems to refine itself, each color
more acute, each syllable, each smell:

the sharp scent of cedar where a carpenter
planes and sands an ornate floral grille

cumin laced with cardamom and coriander
(the spice seller’s stall) rose petal, fennel

or orange blossom just pressed to attar
escaping from a shapely crystal vial

Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar
every vista turns devotional:

the gorgeous rows of vats for dyeing leather
(for yellow, saffron, for red, poppy flower,

spearmint mixed with indigo for teal)
are bright-robed worshippers who’ve joined to kneel

in unison and chant Allahu akbar
God is great and powerful

as stragglers head to fountains to splash water
on hands and feet and face and then unroll

the mats they keep with them, each a small
but resolutely holy house of prayer.

I too was taught that sanctity is portable
(words can be carried anywhere)

Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar . . .
our God also great and powerful

but no sound punctuates the air
to call us to our three-times-daily ritual

except, on Days of Awe, from the shofar.
Here the otherworldly is habitual

if, perhaps, ignored, the atmosphere
never without at least a telltale

smattering of freshly distilled attar
of the unabashedly eternal

as if a vial were always running over
ready to anoint each head with oil.

A flash in the shuttle of a weaver
A glimmer from a distant market stall

Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar
even I, failed believer, feel its pull.


Jacqueline Osherow is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently My Lookalike at the Krishna Temple (LSU Press, 2019). She’s received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merrill Foundations, the NEA and the Witter Bynner Prize, among others. Her poems have appeared in many magazines, journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, Paris Review, APR, Best American Poetry, and The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, She’s Distinguished Professor at the University of Utah.

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