Time’s Childhood

By Kim Peter Kovac

Winter sunset splashes cardinal colors
over the ancient city carved from red
sandstone in the desert midway
between the Dead and Red seas:
Petra, now a tourist magnet, once
a vibrant capital and caravan hub.

The poet who wrote “rose-red city,
half as old as time” had spent no time
there; the carved walls would say
that ‘rose-red’ is a dull description,
and the rocks have no remembrance
of him, though they whisper tales

and secret stories of so many others
when you touch them, close your eyes
and say “there was, there was not.”
The rock-ness of Petra belies the life
of a spirited city, with theater, homes,
treasury, the place of high sacrifice,

as well as a home to revolutionaries
fighting with white-robed Lawrence.
After climbing the steep, winding route
to the highest, most inaccessible carving,
the Monastery, the whispering rocks
chant other legends in the form of prayers.

The Bedu families who live in caves
carved into the slopes of Jebel al-Madhbah,
the mountain of the altar, can trace
their ancestry farther back than history.
The rocks look like them, and they
like the rocks: stunning and hard,

and the poetry of their faces calls out
in a language before language,
in words before words, and you hear
deep inside you a lucid, luminal
song, swirling through the mountains
of this youthful city older than time.