As long as I have these saddlebags
I think I will be all right.
The sun in their weave, their wool stained   
   like a stained glass window,
their scorpion shapes and stylized camels
and cities with gates locked against marauders—
those clinched and vigilant symbols
doze like evolved watchdogs on my sofa.

One day I will lose this coin.
But as long as I have it,
I am walking the Street of the Fortunate
above the blue fabric, the silver scales of the sea—
through Cherries-that-Weigh-down-the-Bough Street
on foot down the Street of the Little Holy Wisdom

keeping in my pocket the coin that will
   pay my way across the Golden Horn
in a long wooden craft, not new,
the boatman singing above the pulling oars.

The journeys I bring these saddlebags along on
are slow marches
over mountains freckled with snow,
over black walnut trees that were cut down
to make my floors.

It’s true I am kindling a fire today
on my own bricks,
not throwing together a rough blaze
with truck drivers and camel drivers and smugglers
stoking a water pipe on the dirt floor
of a caravansaray with gates standing open
to scavenger dogs gnawing bone-scraps, and wolves

and wind off the Hindu Kush.
I don’t shiver with cold and the rain doesn’t
needle my shoulders.
I don’t have to favor my right knee as I climb
or wonder if my boots will fail me.

In the pilgrimage that is underway
I might not be among those walking.
But my fingers, like these saddlebags, are stained
    with the colors of the journey
and my hands smell of the currency of passage.
Praise God I am one of the travellers
as long as I have this coin in my pocket.

Richard Tillinghast

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 21 Number 2, on page 37
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