Freya Stark

by Dorta Jagić

Freya Stark

(born in Paris, 1893 – 1993)

Already in childhood some evil Asolo fairy,
more precisely an odd accident, changed the fair geography of her face.
Expressed in cuneiform, that brutality
translates into something else. 
It wasn’t just the factory machine 
that seized her golden hair with a bow
and then her face as well.
It was a stab from the heavy magnetic needle of the world,
a magnetic knife carving one’s face like Holy Bread,
Arabian spikes of Orient, thorns of destiny.
For those scars furrowed her future journeys:
southeast, northeast, in all directions,
the poetry of sand,
dance steps on the face of this little blue planet
among the gaseous giants. 

For years after Italy’s north,
her nostrils inhaled the ancient languages like narghile fumes, 
Latin, Persian, Turkish, and uttering the names of months 
by their lunar calendars,
she flew, sailed, wrote, and drew on camels’ backs.  
This woman scarcely ever hungers or droops,
caloric azure from that essential Morning Star
is dripping always on her traveller’s spoon. 
In Lebanon, Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus
living with poets and friends, studying and wandering; 
in carriage rides, with a drain for harem tears,
she sees people everywhere, and loves them –
in the Great War, served in the Red Cross.

Wherever she goes, no rustling haystack dress,
one hears instead her clinking binoculars and fountain pens, 
compasses and maps, and the footsteps of spies
in the Valley of Assassins; dates, fruit, and wine.
Her days are dangerous – pioneer exploits – but quiet with writing too,
devoted labor for three books
on the notoriously elusive Hadhramaut.
She lives in a whirlpool of adrenalin enhancers,
uncovering perplexing charts, secret passages and straits,
walking the paths of Alexander
in ethereal Thousand and One Nights haze,
leaving behind an arabesque of weird female imprints 
on the wintry soil of the Arabian desert... 
News vendors call her name in passing, strolling ladies
wonder if she’s drinking five o’clock tea or tears,
Arabia exhilarates like ground coffee bones
lodged suddenly in the jaws of World War 2.
She takes an agent’s job in the British Ministry of Information
penning it in books: Letters from Syria, East is West,
telling her Arab friend, as war is waging,
“I wish you the best.”

She married late at fifty four,
in love with a historian
but soon slipped off her husband’s shoulders,
back on the road.
She wrote again – a final sojourn, to Afghanistan.

From her hundredth birthday, her bones
hungered for the dust from which they rose;
she breathed her last quietly, sating her thirst
on her beloved sand
at the graveyard in Asolo.


Translated by Miloš Đuđević and Damir Šodan