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April 15, 2024

Clothes of Sand

By Terri Edwards

Who has dressed you in strange clothes of sand?

Who has taken you far from this land?

Nick Drake "Clothes of Sand"

All day and all night, year after year, the sands are shifting. When the winds are kind and blow from the south, the sand drifts into ripples, like the waves on the surface of a lake. But when the winds come howling and screaming out of the north like an invading barbarian horde, the sand rises up into a blinding, choking fog: no softness or moisture in it, just a relentless, scouring savagery. The fog fills the air for days at a time, then it descends and blankets the ground, like a murderer smothering a sleeping child.

The sands have been piling up for so long that this hill, once the proudest monument in our land, has become nothing more than a gently rounded island floating in the sand, the waves forever rising and threatening to engulf even the summit.

At night I dream that the sand is engulfing me, too, seeping through the cracks in my roof, trickling into my hair, creeping into my ears and eyes and nostrils, filling my mouth and throat. It finds its way into my bedding, then into the folds of my clothes, until I too am clothed in sand.

Sometimes I dream I'm a child again, lying in a boat on the reed-fringed lake. Palm trees and willows bow down from the lake shore, and birds fly over my head, their beaks and eyes glittering against the backdrop of sky and sun. I can hear the splash of a fish or a diving bird, and in the distance, the bleats of goats and sheep and the grunting coughs of camels. From time to time I hear the chatter of children or the yelps of the camel drivers. But when I wake, there is only darkness and silence and sand.

Once I dreamt that soft hands were uncovering me in my sleep, peeling away my blankets and looking for something in the folds of my clothes. A thief, I thought — I'm being robbed, help me, somebody, help me! Then I realized that more than one person was bending over my bed. So many faces peered down through my torn-off roof that they crowded out the sky. They watched the long slow process of my uncovering, and spoke to each other in a language I could not understand. I felt completely paralyzed, pinned down by the weight of all those hands and faces and eyes. I prayed to the gods to protect me, and gradually the faces receded, my roof closed in, and the darkness and silence returned.

Many years have passed since then, and I had almost forgotten this dream, but today, it has returned. This time, the intruders search more thoroughly, as if they know what they are looking for. They lift me up out of my bed, and I know that this time they mean to take me, to carry me far away from my resting place. Once again I am powerless to resist them, and my prayers to the gods have gone unanswered.

All I can do is smile up at my captors and pray they will not harm me. They will take me away from these desolate lands where the sand yields nothing but the remains of the dead, the shadow of the lake, and the memories of the route my ancestors took from the West. At last I am shaking off my clothes of sand, and even after four thousand years, I am still a beautiful woman.

Article © Terri Edwards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-05-23
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