with author Marc Graham – Ma’rib (today’s Yemen)
CharactersOnLocation…... Marc Graham, author of Song of Songs takes his readers back to 10th Century through the eyes of the Queen of Sheba. First, a short introduction:
The legend of the Queen of Sheba has captured imaginations for nearly three thousand years. Despite the story’s familiarity, there is little agreement on exactly who this woman was, or if she even existed. The most famous version of the story, contained in the Hebrew Bible, does not even give us her name. In Song of Songs: A Novel of the Queen of Sheba, author Marc Graham borrows heavily from the Ethiopian legends, where she is called Makeda and the land of Sheba is identified with ancient Saba in what is today Yemen.
A QUEEN WALKS IN MA’RIB
I walk along dusty tracks, pale ocher bordered by brilliant green. At this predawn hour, I am alone amid the fields, though the sounds of men and machinery begin to fill the air as the city behind me awakens.
Ma’rib, Garden of Yemen. The land of my birth, though that time is many years past, when the great city was called Maryaba in the land of Saba, which you have heard called Sheba.
Though the fields about me seem little different, my mind reels at the changes time has wrought. In my day, the city housed twenty-five thousands of souls, and the fields fed them and twice again as many. Today, I am told—though I can scarcely apprehend it—a hundredfold their number crowd the banks of the Wadi Dhana, forced to this desert haven by the war that pummels the sands and mountains and shores around us.
Time, it seems, does not change all things. War is as it has always been. Only the weapons and the excuses vary with the ages.
But here, among the fields and in the morning twilight, peace rules the world. The city noises fade behind me. Soon I hear only the sand-soft tread of my footsteps and the rhythmic tapping of my satchel against my hip, along with the occasional scurry through the undergrowth as the creatures of nature awaken to a new day. I hum a soft tune and soon reach the edge of the wadi.
Dry now, the sandy track marks the ancient path of floodwaters that stream down from the western mountains. Once the source of death and destruction, the capture and redirection of those waters has brought life to the desert. So well have the feral floods been tamed that the gully is little more than a scratch in the flat earth. I easily cross the ditch and continue southwards.
The sky glows golden in the east as I near the goal of my predawn walk. Awwam, temple of my gods, rises stark and brooding from the desert sands. Its eight pillars stand sentinel over the entrance, waiting to welcome the rising of the sun-goddess Shams. I take my place between two of the limestone pillars and face the brightening east. I kick off my sandals, set down my satchel, and kneel upon the sands.
The crown of morning breaks the horizon, and I prostrate myself and offer my prayer of greeting to the great goddess. When she has fully risen, I collect my belongings and move into the temple proper.
The rectangular courtyard is open to the heavens. The timbers roofs of the shrines that lined three sides of the court have long since turned to dust, so that the shrines to all the gods are now exposed to Shams’s radiance. Still, I move to the southern shrine of the sun goddess, remove a candle from my satchel, light it, and place it on what once was her altar. I light a stick of incense from the flame and carry it to the eastern shrine, an offering to the great god Athtar. Finally, I cross the courtyard to the western shrine, pour a bowl of milk from my satchel, and leave it for the moon god, Elmakah.
I whisper a prayer for each of the gods’ continued blessing upon the people of this land who have long since forgotten them, then make my way back to the wadi. The sun soft on my back, I follow the shallow ditch south and west toward the great dam, the marvel that brings life to this otherwise desolate wasteland.
Most of the dam has crumbled under the weight of three millennia and the wrath of men. Still, a number of channel stones remain, along with the sluice towers that anchored either end of the dam and directed the wild floodwaters into their courses. I run my hands along the stones, and somehow I can hear the ring of hammers, the songs of the workmen, and the creak of their ropes as they set the stones into place.
My legs suddenly weary, I find a patch of shade and sit, my back against the cool, ancient stones. I close my eyes and listen to the world about me, distant memories echoing along with today’s sounds of marshland wildlife and the distant hum of civilization. I feel myself drifting along a river as, by whatever miracle of time has carried me to this place, I slip back into my own.
Familiar faces, long lost and dearly missed, smile in greeting as this world of war and waste and turmoil fades away. Once more I stand atop the dam and look out upon my land of Maryaba, the heart and garden of Saba, where my people live in peace and prosperity.
Marc Graham is pledging half of the proceeds from his latest book Song of Songs: A Novel of the Queen of Sheba to Yemen humanitarian relief in partnership with the Zakat Foundation of America, who will match his donation. Graham’s first novel, Of Ashes and Dust, won the Paul Gillette Memorial Writing Contest and National Writers Association Manuscript Contest. He is an actor, speaker, story coach, shamanic practitioner, and whisky aficionado. When not on stage, in a pub, or bound to his computer, Graham can be found traipsing about the foothills and mountains with his wife and their Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. Learn more via his website.