Seen in Morocco 1974

Seen in Morocco 1974
A run-down village of adobe walls
painted shabby shades of rose-red pink 
stands forlorn on an Atlas plateau –
this is Morocco.
A long-dead jacaranda
with sun-bleached rigor mortis branches 
reaching like beggars’ beseeching arms
too flimsy for goats to roost on
supporting ravens and
a loose-slung canvas awning
stands in the square.
In the shadows
a dwindling remnant –
watchers and participants –
have assembled for the
‘winner takes all’
open-ended tournament
(called to remember a tribal disaster)
that their fathers played
and their fathers’ fathers
from time immemorial..
Cross-legged ancients squat 
around a large wide three-side table
watching and waiting their turn.
The Naqba is re-enacted
with swords, rods, chalices,
and exquisitely carved ivory dice.
The winner bags the spoils of war –  
clipped-edge gold coinage
looted, according to local legend,
from a Barbary corsair.
After three days of ‘battles’
sombre drumming
a gong is sounded.
The final skirmish begins.
No word is spoken.
The silence is broken
by fist-gripped rattling dice
flung with clattering force,
and clunking stacks of tokens
shunting this way and that
as the game ebbs and flows.
Hooded eyes glance and glance away
luring the ‘enemy’ with bluff
and counter-bluffery.
Discreet coughs applaud good moves –
grunts and angry fisting the table
greet bad.
Battle is waged hour after hour,
then onlookers,
scenting imminent victory,
throat a low murmur.
The winner, smiling, waits his moment-
he too has read the runes –
he finesses subtle cunning moves.
The defeated shake their heads,
sighing at the devastating swoop.
The victor scoops the pool.
Following tradition,
while grey beards look on,
he test-bites a doubloon or two –
pronouncing them true.
Lifting the coins,
and his face,
to the Almighty
he gives his god the glory.
While every move is scrutinised  
for sleight of hand,
(lest any should go ‘inadvertently astray’)
he secretes each coin in the  
victor’s weighty reticule
worn draped around the neck.
He will flaunt the shame of
breast-bruising studded leather
throughout the feasting,   
before driving his prize –
a flock of scapegoats – home.
Helped to their feet,
the vanquished players
straighten stiffening backs
Leaning on crooked sticks
they hobble from view
through the beaded curtain
strung across the doorway
of the rose-pink flaked-paint
shuttered cafe,
(a former estaminet),
to eat goat tagine,
drink coffee,
smoke shisha,
and sing sad songs.
Songs beyond sorrow.
Songs beyond song.  

© coolhermit 2023
Views: 1108
critique and comments welcome.
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Those ‘squatting ancients’ were probably having a crap.

Not bad for someone who’s never been there (probably). But you forgot the dysentery, fleas and (if you’re female) daily gropes.

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