Dear hoopoe, welcome! You will be our guide;
It was on you King Solomon relied
To carry secret messages between
His court and the distant Sheba's lovely queen.
For years I travelled over many lands,
Past oceans, mountains, valleys, desert sands,
I know our king -- but how can I alone
Endure the journey to His distant throne?
Join me, and when at last we end our quest
Our king will greet you as His honoured guest.
Do not imagine that the way is short;
Vast seas and deserts lie before His court
The road is long, the sea is deep - one flies
First buffeted by joy and then by sighs;
What are you but a few bones? - and at heart
Each bone is soft and hastens to depart.
Aren't you aware that life, from birth to death,
Is little more than one precarious breath?
Those who suffer birth must also die,
Their being scattered to the windy sky?
The sky is like some huge inverted bowl
Which sunset fills with blood from pole to pole-
The sun seems then an executioner,
Beheading thousands with his scimitar.
If you are profligate, if you are pure,
You are but water mixed with dust, no more.
Cupbearer, fill the bowl with blood, not wine -
And if you lack the heart's rich blood take mine.
- The Conference of the Birds
Recipient of the Allan Sekula Award for Social Documentary