#poem #poetry #amwriting the muslim's tale

the muslim's tale

in the time of our grandfathers
high in the hills beyond the clouds
the air so pure no trumpet sounds
deceiving whispers found no ear

this house co-eternal like the book
played host to ghengis who drew near
tamerlane piled no skulls for fear
of the bees of heaven living here

and the old man of the mountain
wise beyond the imams of baghdad
each stone he knew as a father
so old he marched with alexander

he it was that harvested the honey
in each hive a copy of the koran
the queen hafiz proficient learned
recites the verses new moon reborn

for here so high the spring blossom
must flower through the winter snow
and here alone but a single peach tree
marks calender of seasons flow

in the valley deep beyond and down
passing like rain - the lives of men
puddled rich in noble struggle strained
or drained out in wasteful joys haram

and so ibn koinos lived to watch the sun
on honey and peaches fowl and fish
sometimes from the valley would come
a visitor - with a lamb - seeking exegesis

above his door this message he proclaimed
'without history told true - only law remains'
thus no judge made he between shia and sunni
nor of hadith for he knew allah perfect he

let the heavens in their spirits move
in aged remembrance twice removed
still we hear that song of spheres
ungranted youth devoid of tears

let sorrow flow from cherished books
to the of false faith so proud be damned
maggots grey shall eat their eyes
as laughing wind takes off their sighs

care not for him who in battle's heat
tricks angels wings to carry him
past those who lived in submission
and never struck the cutting strike

the thief who steals by dead of night
feeds the very devil thrice
let him bask in flames sublime
forever satan's concubine

thus he answered all who sought advice
outside his door - offered lamb was laid
question asked - then backed away
when the bell was sounded - answer came

O pure and honest life of women free
between the mountain and the sons of man
beauty beyond all that lays within a span
tenfold blessed lived the old man of mountain

tangential to the noted path of venus' plane
descend we must sage scented mists
to the warmer lands of floods and rains
where by turning of the wheel all men live

here the tiger spikes it's claws to flints
against the reigning tree of shade
and the laden donkey mocks
the boasts to hard-loins some men make

and here is poor ali - a woeful man
made cobbled life now tongue bereft
and heedless he to the songs of birds
footpad caught - sword made deaf

oh there is poor ali - all in rags
a bowl before and crutch beside
waiting by the caravan trail
for crumbs of bread from passers-by

but they do not see the hunting hawks
scouting out the jewels and gold
travelers don't look up for death
but scour the djinn-eyed gully folds

nor will they feel the savage blow
as predators pour down weighty stones
but for a while beneath their ribs
they will taste the dagger honed

none shall need their earthly riches
on the road to paradise or hell
at the tiny cost of trapping mice
ali's treasure-house did swell

ali took his loot to a hidden cave
dark and thin as is a womb
by strangled candlelight he'd count
ninety-eight diamonds in the gloom

then he'd wait the clouded moon
to cloak him as he slipped for home
to mince the mice caught in traps
to feed his hawks - while he ate scraps

ninety-eight diamonds bought in blood
each the human race destroyed
yet still he must salute the judge
and still - though rich - had no wife

how sorry is miserly greed - have mercy
for ali must bear the sores of a beggar
curse the law that makes him murder
or eunuch if again caught thief

then what use is he to lotvia
more beautiful than the breeze of a brook
who of a glance an octave of the buzuq plays
and for whom ninety-eight have shortened days

for as the night stilled to jasmine'd breath
to silvered sight illuminate
from the court of the merchants house
lotvia and her sister doolia music make

and ali would climb a ladder to the roof
flatten himself serpent low
and fall in love again with every note that played
and know why he was punished so - to stay

past the dark hours - ali lay in bed
the cords of lotvia's music stinging
when first one hawk and then the next
petrified him to the spine by speaking

ali most faithful of all men said the first
sinful guilt has struck you foolish
do not hide my charity in that cave
I command you use it to it's fullest

most cursed of all men says it's neighbour
your servants serve you dutifully
spend thine wealth - buy a stallion
to display thy servants beautifully

along the cadge of resting hawks
each removing of companion's hood
came haggard croak of sage advice
alternate praise 'tween cursed and prized

when the last bird spoke - all was still
first hint of morning broke the hills
in golden carried angelic chorus
ali saw in halo - ibn koinos' house

but where could ali get a lamb
in payment for a consultation
with that old man of the mountain
brought to mind by revelation

rising he kneeled to pray at the call
thanking the most merciful of all
just two more lives he would take
a sheep for a lamb - for heaven's sake

thrice the sun slides oe'r the noon
hawk-tail's catch uplifting drafts
widow's weep and mother's groan
for haunting death bestrides this road

his belly nags for want of alms
ali's knife stays out of sight
the pointed tip no longer picks
the diamonds of the cockled heart

crunched shut eyes he rocks and prays
for just two more - just two - oh lord -
to make redemption touching true
fulfillment of the imam's word

poor stubborn ali - touched by grace
neither barking dog or dead lion he
philosopher birds have shown the path
yet this donkey prays for century

O ali - the fickle faults of men that love
more grasping of their lack - than in desire
for the hand that holds nothing is bound
O ali - prepare for ankle-deep hell-fire

at last the proverb comes again
twelve thirsty months he dug this well
cutting hearts and bathed in blood
why wait for two - when it may rain

to the joyous taste of fresh picked almond
to the hidden cave he goes
to the city - one by one he'll take them -
for there are robbers on the road

how happy is the man who hears
his spirit rich with meccan glow
above him hawks to show the path
from filth to purity made whole

just one diamond he takes at first
ali always cautious as the crow
he well has time full measure to make
and does not fear the unseen blow

ten miles along he meets a crone
of skeleton shrunk and whithered in
to make twice wrinkled of her skin
her eyes as dark of polished bronze

and lain at her crippled foot - O kismet -
a lamb fresh flayed and meat prepared
without it's head or feet - O answered prayers -
joyous as warm rain in parched field

the crone's bright eyes sparkle dull
she tickles his pilgrim holiness
her one demand by haggled bull
to run her errand by his life - after sacrifice

first one - then ten stones reign down
his cast of servants strain their lease
as loyal fury boils them to a kettle
and in a steam of jingled jesses flee

how narrow is the bridge of heaven
for upon shouldering the lamb
the crone turned to thick pillar'd smoke
sealing ali into the djins bargain

abandoned now upon the rack
yoked as a slave to the flesh
inshallah he hears a hundred times
cain's mark he bears upon his head

in the lower forest of the climb
where man does not clear nor farm
a narrow track threads the groves
of shadows without near or far

and here to ali's great dismay
a feasting tiger bars the path
half hidden by the shafting rays
and the weighty buffalo carcass

don't cry out says the buffalo
nor listen to the growls
nor look into the tigers eye
nor try to run if she prowls

but be strong in allah's sight
pass bravely my honoured death
as I feed your foe - you must recite
for me - your friend - the janazah

thus saying the buffalo fell dead
on voiceless lips ali groaned the prayer
three times for his fallen brother
and an instikhaarah to ward the fear

day passed to purple night
the mercury of the seeker's path
ran ever upwards in false hope
that this ascent might be the last

weariness sweeter than smiles
we live each breath exhaled
measure progress not in miles
but by the will of next taken step

the roaring gale of the senses
is focused to the little sail tacking
to the doldrum of dreams catching
us hopeful of desired memoried rest

to the beating drum of bone
ali plodded ever forward and up
for who would take this bed of blood
enslaved by curse to chain his neck

exhaustion jolts the lamb to spray
his cheeks in running rivulets
that snake their way unto his lips
without a thought he licks away

on the second day come torments
from the wing a careless song
transports him to his perch of night
and lotvia picking strings so bright

the weary and the worker do not love
to them the greatest virtue is to cease
better to allow the fleeting thought
ideas distract and regrets increase

only prayers sustain him now
fifty times each day he prays
never once does he look down or back
just forward to the judgment day

at last the gates of ibn koinos came
a mirage to his laboured sin
and there before those golden gates
hunched and hooded sat the crone

at his gaolers whithered feet sat
a basket covered by a silken cloth
patterned dripped with blood spat
in match of those upon his cheek

the sultan lies within she said
as the magic fell out from the lamb
released - ali fell unto the ground
there wept the tears of the damned

once more into a pillar of smoke
and out the range of throttling fist
pulling the silken cloth aside
ali saw he could not now know bliss

for there - smiling - was a child's head
upon a swastika of hands and feet
looking to the carcass on the grass
ali saw it came from wife not sheep

slowly opened the childish eyen
the lips bereft of throat to voice
mouthed to the one god of heaven
immature hope of intercession

ali shushed the livid lips be still
gathered all unto the basket
took the whole through the gates
to the father - and proper casket

how fresh was the tumbling air
of that shaded outer garden
perfumed by one thousand lilies
in promenade upon the ponds

in serenade joined in the fountains
bedecked with rainbow'd hanging orbs
drinking in the brackish mountains
from them crystal water flowed

and here the formal flower bed
and there the tufted overgrown
blended perfect by a naive artist
of those mysteries nature owns

over the path in graceful arches
hung pregnant vines of fist-sized grapes
at casual reach between the columns
were trees of bay and figs and dates

twice the path ran over bridges
and once ali paused to look
to see the panoply of fishes
swimming free about the brook

for though the beauty of this garden filled his soul
as a mother hearing - joyous cry of life begun
the wicker-basket - of his burden - bit his hip
while drooling down his leg blood ran

that blood - that blood - of which he had tasted
on splintered remnants of what remained
when judiciously split and ripped with tongs
to silence him against all claims

at the final inner gate
resplendent in their lamellar
beneath the dragon green pendant
stood the sultan's body-guard

ali smelt the wine-soaked soldier-breath
as they stopped him on the path
not these the conscripts of hadeeth
each and every volunteered

men of horn and men of mail
men grown hardened in the saddle
born not of mother but of jackals
whose life depends on whom they serve

O come the fire - come the tree
make sweet death swift sharp mercy
so ali prayed as he was carried led
to the great sultan - all men dread

speak he ordered when he saw
the contents of what ali bore
his vengeance barely chained
speak truth he spoke again in earnest

into the silence ibn koinos stepped
with honey to regenerate
the tattered tongue stolen false
by the sultan's demi-potentate

mellifluous as waking birds
cramped and croaked as growling bear
the strangled gasp of the choked
came that a voice unheard for one year

mid-tress she sets aside the hairbrush
doolia unveiled to the window goes
twice skips her heart to hear the horses
arrive at her father's stables down below

but no suitor comes - just traders -
wind-eaten men of wrinkled eyen
who sail the steppes in search of gold
breaking the backs of ponies in a line

and always black flies come too
that feed upon the saddle sores
unkempt shaggy mares dry milked
limp on - on hooves worn to claws

seeing her tears lotvia removes her sister
leads her back to the dressing table
to pots of rouge and talc and scent
and the jewels to match the silk and sable

each passing blood moon dismay
brings more beauty to the music played
as they count the notes of sisterhood
they stave the confine of this gilded cage

promise after promise has been broken
each promised day they dress with girlish chatter
yet no man comes - just a dumb eunuch slave -
while their father and the judge grow fatter

for they alone by ancient rite
must wait a man to meet the merchant price
though each sister objects this base
as grateful women they keep their place

sometimes in sport they swapped veils
these sisters so alike in build and height
with faces misted masked they might
doolia for lotvia appear at phantom glance

but such games began to grow in spite
as each impatient of desired destiny
sought in the secret mirror of the mind
to find angel' sign of accident virginity

though closeted in apartments lush
without material hint of want nor wish
they knew enough of bees and flowers
and the stamen touched in midnight hours

and so between them grew an enmity
of vanity in each other's virtue
what use to lotvia in unviewed beauty
or merit in doolia's selflessness

like surgeons each remark dissected
in fretful hours in adjoining rooms
for codes a laugh was deep inspected
for each blamed each for their fate

but who would guess when in the evening
to hear harmonious lute and flute
echo the music of spheres slow turning
that desperate murderous thoughts had rooted

the genteel toughened fingers itched
picked at time and pinched the breath
perhaps - each thought - only one could love
perhaps - it best if the price were cleft

doolia awoke on that friday with bile so dark
as the autumnal tribes that live by the spring
with a joyous woe of the unspoked wheel
she thrice rejoiced at being unclean

once in forgiveness to all-seeing allah
then for the memories of what she had been
third she shared praise for all love in her life
that combined - she hoped - was just sacrifice

alone by a window she watched them to mosque
then down the backstairs to the dusty storeroom
in search of the key to prized cabinet
where her father narcotics and poisons he kept

shadows move softly as doolia hunted
the bundle of keys she fumbled at locks
unnatural her venom frantic and haunted
- as with a click - she opened the box

she swallowed - and stared - dared herself
to open the ledger that bore her name
her thumb cracked the spine - for shame
there listed were the unmanned suitors - sold

and under lay a second book
that tallied lotvia's beauteous face
in silver and in pennies neatly spaced
and how much was paid to confederates

more dead than cold she sniffed the bottles
for that which smelt of lingering death
with measured care she laced the pomegranates
immensurable malice she now confessed

slow turns against the lowered sky
vultures patient biding time
their tail-feathers angled down
to pick the bones of the town

dust settled about the reined in steeds
lowering the hammer of the sultan's gaze
their standards flick upon the breeze
more dour this scene than any battle won

in twos and threes and sometimes more
lay those who once had names at dawn
without rigour left to puff or preen
mortal rude remains of traduced spleen

the wine of gall cannot be sipped
except upon affairs of state
when justice weighs the balance tipped
and wisdom merits matters right

but not for this from satan's cup
doolia stands blood-drained before the mosque
discard of pomegranate shells surround her
before her that which was her baba

notched and drawn the arrows wait
bead taken true upon the heart
on commanding fall of the sultan's sword
these righteous men will slay the cur

not through courage or by fear
doolia stands boldly as a martyr
face to face with the teaming snakes
of the daemon that was once her father

the skinned dog deamon's frame
bipedal stands to make the dare
around its ribs vortex flames
full taller than a bear it stands

and from its shoulders and its arms
writhing snakes of bronze abound
each snake a lingual razor sharp
each lash will slash a neck in half

where once had been the merchant's jaw
porcine teeth feed satan's maw
fed by hands with claws of brass
lacklustre'd worn to verdigris

all corruption of the earth assembled
embodied in this poisoned beast
that which may in evil slumber
female vengeance had unleashed

again the flames glow to ember
malevolent beats the devil's heart
unbound uncoils a pointing finger
that picks out ali from the crowd

in spiteful mirth it strikes a pose
from ear to ear it smirks a grin
then draws the world into a vacuum
and let's out pandemonium

down drops the curling scimitar
in dense quivers arrows fly
tacit buzzing fletching's sigh
in challenge of the fiendish cry

three volleys rend the air - without effect
the deamon struts in prouder mood
his martial demonstration proved
a single arrows hangs from of it's neck

and again the world falls silent - still -
to be broken by the clattering of arrows
dropped from the mouthes of gleeful snakes
taken on the wing as a lover plucks a rose

in disdain it takes a half-dead child
and snacks upon the head and breast
seasoned by the rattled gasps
with profundo belch the beast digests

out rolls a sigh into laugh into a sneer
into a screech into a scream
into a feral curse - spooking all the horses
beyond bit whip or spur - they flee in fear

to the background of alurams and cries
only ali remains to face the foe
unarmed - but for his trusty knife -
ali stands in faith as the shadow grows

and grows - and darkens on approach
eclipsing slow the waning sun
drawing all to it's dark bronze eyes
that whisper to the soul calumnious lies

stout and bold within death's ring
ali signals do not fight nor swing
to those who fled but now return
the written fate is his alone