Everyone just calls me Al. Well, not everyone, exactly, as I do not have that many friends here in this country, but all those who do call me Al. You can call me Al.
It makes me laugh how mixed up you Americans are. You get everything so completely wrong that I am laughing so hard! For instance, I read that you think we communicate among ourselves by placing notices in those hugely thick newspapers like The Washington Post or The New York Times. What a fantastic big joke someone is playing on you! Do you really think we have time to slug–is that the right word, slug?– our way through page after page of tiny printing? We are busy people. No, no, no, no. Our system of communication is far more elegant than that.
And another thing: what is all this fuss about flight schools? We have always gone to flight schools, this is nothing new. All Arabs fly, you must realize this, for our love of the air is an expression of our highly romantic and sensual nature, ingrained in a desert people. Have you not read Le Petit Prince? Do you not know anything?
I will tell you something. We communicate by flying.
I myself have created this, I say so humbly. Our Great Leader was astonished at my formulation and, taking very little credit himself, thus sent me here immediately for the execution of it. Now I must live without notice, quite apart, and have done so all these several years, moving quietly from place to place, county to county, no one suspecting. I am the Calligrapher of the Way. Literally so.
Each morning I drive to my chosen route at first light, long before the DPW stir in their beds. With my spouted can of liquid hot patch at the ready, I pause to face the East for a moment’s prayer and then, filled with righteous inspiration, I begin. It is impossible to convey to you the gloriousness of writing in this medium: the thick, silky tar spilling onto the pavement in the exquisite curls and curves of our language. The elongation of the line! The quick vertical! All in a scale that requires the entire arm–the body!–legs flying to keep up! Words never before were so exhilarating.
I choose a clean lane with good visibility from above, no shady trees or overpasses, and I write right down the middle of it, on the crown of the lane where those cracks that need patching are apt to appear. If it is the eastbound or the westbound lane, of course that means something; I use a bit of code sometimes, just in case. But really, what are the chances of someone who reads Arabic happening upon my chosen quarter mile of rural county road? I can tell you from experience: those chances are zip.
From the air, they tell me, all becomes clear. Out for a joyride on a Sunday afternoon one might fly over the directive: Group 7, Topeka Holiday Inn bar, Tuesday, Don’t be late! And then of course some numerals pertaining to the next message: 34S Bucklin 23, for instance, would pinpoint the exact location (23 miles south of Bucklin on State Route 34…) for those who had eyes to see. In some ways it is what you call a game of treasure hunt, yes? You almost had us there on that crop dusting lead, except you completely missed why we were all flying about like bumblebees. Cedar Rapids Bowl-a-rama, noon Friday, lunch, rent your own shoes.
Lately I have found myself appending a scrap of poetry to my messages, or a verse from the Qur’an–it has become my trademark. I think of it as a gift to those who must seek out my words. In the garden beneath which rivers flow, date palms grow for a hasty world.
One day it was: Mother, your black hair invites the whirlwind from your eyes! Actually, I was trying to write whirlpool, but the air itself took the flow and wrote its own name! So be it! Thy will be done!
This wind hurls through the eye of the needle, I wrote last week, my camel waits at the ATM. To tell you the truth, I think I am growing a bit homesick. Rajid, what news of my Raheela?
We wrote a hundred letters, and you did not write an answer. This, too, is a reply. –Zauqi
Wine becomes clear only after forty days
And a man must become Solomon before his magic ring will work. –Hafiz
Ahmed, the speed trap is back on US 183, was all I wrote today–in a thin and rather listless script. I will be going home soon. The directive came last night. Poet, prepare for your return.
I am overjoyed to leave this misguided country. However, I must admit I will miss the act of writing, particularly the energizing, acrid fragrance of hot tar in the morning. Not many calligraphers have worked in asphalt. I see it as a breakthrough in the art.
Indeed, once because of a mishap I was forced to use a watering can filled with driveway sealer for my writing and, let me tell you, that was a mistake. Just a hint: never, ever, use that latex brand from Wal-Mart. One good thunderstorm and, phfffftt!, disappearing ink! One lives and one learns.
So, some day soon I will deposit my matériel in a dumpster and board the airplane. No, you have nothing to fear from me. I will be wearing only shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops. Allah be praised.
But the next time you fly, be sure to request a window seat. If it’s a long flight, bring binoculars. Because everything means something. The rose is gone from the garden; what shall we do with the thorns?
Al, code name Poet, signing off.
Karen Alpha lives at the end of a dead end road near Corning, NY. Her short stories have been published in The North American Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Blueline, and EPOCH among many others. Recent books are the poetry collections All The Blue In The World and That Year On Blackberry Hill.