Click here to listen to Hannah Faith Notess read this poem.
It told us whether to cover our heads,
where to remove our sandals.
It told us not to wear shorts if male
and if female to be careful.
It said Speak slowly please. That’s too expensive.
Drive slowly. Stop here. Please call a doctor.
It said to tip the man guarding the shoes.
He lined our sandals neatly on the steps
facing the dark-mouthed dome.
We approached barefoot, our feet damp
as someone swept water with a stiff broom.
It said Excuse me. I don’t understand.
I’m lost. I’m pregnant. I’ve been robbed. I want
to get off. I need a larger room.
Inside, rows of sandstone saints
with extra eyes. Or a black-tongued woman.
Or a rosy square with pigeons and a bath.
Or a cupboard of scrolls. Or a gilded man,
cross-legged or on a cross. Or tree limbs
coiled with flags. But always incense,
worn pavement, smoke-stained walls.
It said Where are you going? Is this it,
the train for the city? May I have
a kilo of mangoes? How much is it?
Where are my shoes? Please help me.
We left just as we entered, blinking
our cameras at the courtyard,
holding these small pronouncements in our hands.