Karen Alpha ~ Al‑Q.

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.