Friday, December 24, 2010

Mawqif of the Path of Knowledge

He stopped me on my way & said to me:

"The path of knowledge doesn't bring me to you out of some hiding place or hidden hiding thing; it's that which hidden place & hiding hidden won’t acquaint you with. You know me by my attribute that has no adjective; a breath to you, who crave nothing in its place; a thing you learn, & nothing after gain."

al Niffari

Thursday, December 16, 2010

To a suicide's room

Did you always feel aired out?
A bleated, empty O; pathetic

parenthetic, the walls ringing
for that which they’re without; was it

always so? Or does this open seeming
space stammer with your loss --

ocean breadth in which
the act's carried out, & out ?
That hint of loss necessary to keep belonging still belonging, and its shock -- so resolutely happening upon us like a bolt of lightning: I can’t put it down in writing. Whose head is set sailing through the world in love, in love is apart; and with the body that dangles impossibly behind, needs another lash before they remember altogether how to tread.

Friday, December 10, 2010

“If you see my mouth open, make a mark (Ah) above the letter, in the air. If I close my mouth, put the mark (O) before the letter, if I bare my teeth, bury a mark (I) under the letter; each movement a syllable and each syllable a sound.”

Movements, Musa -- mo’ments
lead to nowhere, unlike a letter:

the former being open and
undocumented, the latter –

accusations; La La,
is it be’er

to be exact, carving the air
we sound, or caught

mumuring & all the world hears?
A barbarous barber's cut:

two lambs
I dash, in your name,

two tongues that hold
the mouth still open

to see if you answer
to it; a mutilated


Sunday, December 05, 2010

The house is near

That house's near to mine that grows
farther from one who's far from it.

I saw the feast & found it ugly; seeing
no one drunk; though people throng,

with you out of sight,
I can’t make out a one.

Abu Nuwas

يا قريب الدار من داري و قد
زاد في البعد على من بعدا

فد شهدت العيد فاستسمجته
ذاك ان لم تك فيمن شهدا

حوالي الناس كأني لا ارى
منهم اذ غبت عني احدا

ابو نواس

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Autobiography of the you who's written.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


ما اجلد الروح
فهو قد يحمل
وزن القدم
و فتح الباب

What fortitude the Soul contains,
That it can so endure
The accent of a coming Foot--
The opening of a Door--

Emily Dickinson

Sunday, October 17, 2010


You can tell they're tourists by the fact they raise their heads.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Khidr hid my sea to find a fish --
it bit, leaving the bark in

me halved, so I separated
sung: once for the world

where it is left & for the bit
that held it noticeably -- back;

my Musa choked, la la, my angelis
now exorcised, I Cough; خ

ya khidr’an, how many ibn’an
‘ll break within my name
before I can begin
& sons of sons
to gag by a sin
gle fin?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The raven croak by day, the book
of separation 'ready writ, says Layla’s bound away.

I've fled the only family I love; & arrow-like,
for fletchings, I'm torn a flock.

Qays ibn al-Mulawwah
from Layla and Majnun

نعب الغراب ببين ليلى غُدوة | فأتى الكتاب ببينهم مخطوطا
أصبحت من أهلي الذين أحبهم | كالسهم أصبح ريشه ممروطا

من مجنون ليلى

Friday, August 13, 2010

I thought of you

اخذ ابوه بيده الى محفل من الناس في ايام الحج فسألهم ابوه ان يدعوا الله تعالي بالفراج فلما اخذ الناس في الدعاء انشأ يقول

ذكرتك والحجيج لهم ضجيج
بمكة والقلوب لها وجيب

فَقُلْتُ وَنَحْنُ فِي بَلدٍ حَرامٍ
بِهِ واللّه أُخْلِصَتِ القلُوبُ

أتوب إليك يارحمن مما
عملت فقد تظاهرت الذنوب

فأما من هوى ليلى وتركي
زِيارتَها فَإنِّي لا أَتوبُ

وكيف وعندها قلبي رهين
أتوب إليك منها أو أنيب

قيس بن الملوح‎

[The poet's] father drags him by the hand to a gathering of some in the midst of their Pilgrimage. His father asks them to implore God for his sake --- for freedom from sin. As the people take to prayer, [the poet] says:

I thought of you, as heart-crossed pilgrims
mixed their wail by Makkah; in this

hallowed land I called on Him, who
parts the heart of disbelief: O

Merciful, forgive me all for all I’ve done
that smacked or smelt of sin,

but as to my love for Layla & me leaving her
to foot her course alone -- I can’t side

with you; how could I, since she has my heart
devoted, turn to you, leaving her spurned?

- Qays ibn al-Mulawwah, from "Layla and Majnun"

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Night fell; your favor never falls, your sight's
more suited to the eye than being shut;

you showed such grace that even half of me
was made to testify against the rest it ever was.

The calm above the heavens is His roof,
you worship him walkingly on earth.


مضَى اللّيلُ والفضْلُ الذي لك لا يمضِي
ورُؤياكَ أحلى في العيونِ من الغُمضِ

على أنّني طُوّقْتُ مِنْكَ بنِعْمَةٍ
شَهيدٌ بها بعضِي لغيري على بَعضي

سَلامُ الذي فَوْقَ السّماواتِ عَرْشُهُ
تُخَصّ بهِ يا خَيرَ ماشٍ على الأرْضِ


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

from Majnun and Layla

إذا نظـرت نحوي تكلم طرفهـا وجاوبـها طرفي ونحن سكـوت
فواحـدة منهـا تبشـر باللقـا وأخـرى لها نفسي تكاد تـموت
إذا مت خوف الياس احياني الرجا فكـم مرة قد مت ثـم حييـت
ولو أحدقوا بي الإنس والجن كلهم لكي يـمنعوني أن أجيك لجيـت

قيس بن الملوح
من ديوان مجنون و ليلى

When she turned an eye towards me, it spoke;
& with a look, I answered mutely back:

one glance from her is the chance
of an encounter, another’s almost dying:

when despair terrified me to death, this little ghost
revived me (how many times I've died only to live).

So if the men & jinn begird me
to defer my journey, I'll still come.

Qays ibn al-Mulawwah, from "Majnun and Layla"

(“The fainting of Laylah and Majnun,” a Persian illustration of
a scene from Nizami's
adaptation of the poem. Source: Library of Congress)

The majnun (or madman) of "Layla and Majnun" is actually the poet himself -- the work is an outpouring of poetry dedicated to Layla -- unlike the Persian adaptation of the work by Nizami, Qay's work really doesn't contain a solid narrative structure -- bearing more resemblance to Petrarch's Canzoniere (though Qays was around nearly 9 centuries before Petrarch!).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

from Interpreter of Desires

ليت شعري هل دروا
اي قلب ملكوا

و فوادي لو درى
اي شعب سلكوا

اتراهم سلموا
ام تراهم هلكوا

حار ارباب الهوى
في الهوى و ارتبكوا

ابن عربي

Would that I could tell if they
had known the heart they held,

or my heart, if it could know
what mountain trail they trod.

Did they seem safe to you,
or did they look already dead?

Those who lorded love, in love, turned
upon themselves and were ensnared.

- Ibn Arabi
Section I from Interpreter of Desires.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


Writing do you wave, O wond'r,
water's blue cardiac over green,

you do not spell, you monstrous sit
on the dumb shore & pond'r

if this only coast is that o'er
which you’d break your prospr's word (you do):

Wondrous, wondrous. Was it
then this all-ey'd sea,

lawer to your farther shore,
that never turn'd a shape more

diff'rnt than what
submerg'd your own --

the first shore furth'r from that
which sing'rly broke in you, or was

another the world
made erworld by?

You stare to Ur & utter,
you wave your rite

to silent
be, to b', O n'w, O no'.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Foot of Al-Khidr

مَرَتْكَ ابنَ إبراهيمَ صافِيَةُ الخَمْرِ
وهُنّئْتَها من شارِبٍ مُسكرِ السُّكرِ

رأيْتُ الحُمَيّا في الزّجاجِ بكَفّهِ
فشَبّهْتُها بالشمسِ في البدرِ في البحرِ

إذا ما ذكَرْنا جُودَهُ كانَ حاضِراً
نأى أوْ دَنا يسعى على قدمِ الخِضْرِ


Your wholesomeness, Ibn Ibrahim, is the purest
liquor; you drink to it with drunkenness's blend.

I watched the wine as it filled the glass & likened it
to the sun by the moon by the sea;

even when we don’t observe its generousness, it's there --
far or near, moving with the foot of Al Khidr.

Al Mutanabbi

Sunday, May 30, 2010

After Mutanabbi

(second draft)

For you was named that
which after you are

called and cast
what before you was

planetary dark
you followed it as if

the severed part of you
lay on its shadowed side

They called you Golden
Golden not after the ungodly

sun that burns above
our days and burning nights

but Golden as in blood
bereft of kin

endless circulation
My gilded son go blind and be

that whose name
you intermingle with

My orphan gold lead
me from dark bringing fire

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I kiss the tongue that slips
your accent through my English, in remembrance,

& lick the ledge’s fault, where your
foot slipped towards your fall. Once

wet, the page doesn’t part, but stays
open to that city grid, where the speck

of you remains; tribute
to a place the ink was

run. Father, abi, they are coming
to kill me; demanding my left hand,

& all the ink I squandered on it
dragging over their script,

has found itself back on my skin.
Your running name, my blackened

thumb, will make a mess of us,
or else, a map.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


كَتَمْتُ حُبّكِ حتى منكِ تكرمَةً
ثمّ اسْتَوَى فيهِ إسراري وإعْلاني

كأنّهُ زادَ حتى فَاضَ عَن جَسَدي
فصارَ سُقْمي بهِ في جِسْمِ كِتماني


Until our love was honored I concealed it,
so that what was held equaled what remained without:

it grew to overflow my flesh, turning
into toxic for my hidden self.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


لمّا نُسِبْتَ فكُنْتَ ابْناً لِغَيرِ أبٍ
ثمّ اخْتُبِرْتَ فَلَمْ تَرْجعْ إلى أدَبِ

سُمّيتَ بالذّهَبيّ اليَوْمَ تَسْمِيَةً
مُشتَقّةً من ذهابِ العقلِ لا الذّهَبِ

مُلَقَّبٌ بكَ مَا لُقّبْتَ وَيْكَ بهِ
يا أيّها اللّقَبُ المُلقَى على اللّقَبِ


When you traced your name, you were fatherless,
so you ventured forth, throwing out decorum --

on this day you were dubbed Golden*
after the flight from sense (not the substance of the same)

and named, woefully, for that which after you
was called -- O name cast over name.

*The word for "gold" and "go" are the same in Arabic. Though the link is uncertain some propose it is because gold is a substance that passes from hand to hand -- endless circulation.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

وبلغيهم سلاما من اخي شجن
في قلبه من فراق القوم اشجان

ابن عربي

Send them this greeting from a grieving kin, whose heart
still reels from the instant he was cleaved from them.

Ibn Arabi, from his Interpreter of Desires.

Monday, April 26, 2010

This is that the leaving
of a lover from his lover
grieving for the going of
the spirit from its body
leaving when the clouds bring
wind that rises then you
beyond the city cannot move
or pass O generous prince from it
onto the white sand
you could call your rest so
you who parted from us one
day do not ever go

My very liberal translation of an Al Mutanabbi poem.

Monday, April 12, 2010


There is an M inside my mouth
an Um where my Mother should
be a razor hidden under

my tongue where my mouth
opens mimicking the one
who splits me for metal

Um me I can’t repeat those
words that move the blade
too close against my M

or be moved to slip my tongue
against its edge slipping
invisibly into you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

كفى حزناً أني أناديك دائباً
كأني بعيد أو كأنك غائب

واطلب منك الفضل من غير رغبة
فلم أر قبلي زاهداً وهو راغب

It’s sad enough that I continually call you, bellowing as though
from far away, or as if you were no longer there, while I'm the one

pursuing you for your favor devoid of pleasure; I could never see that
it was me who fed your ardor, not allowing you a flavor.

Al Hallaj

Saturday, March 13, 2010


for M.H.

They found sweetness
at the root so called it

torture Found tekite
figures kept in tact

& called them white
They called to not

remember Forgot
to find again & found

roots resembling nerves
& called them

dyed by the ink
of what they found

there dictated
'til they were lost

So called themselves

in the mouth of each
who repeated it

were those Who had

Friday, March 05, 2010


for M.H.

From a parted city
I call You there

someone often
does not arrive

or loses a stranger
swearing his tongue

by the name of one
who called him

so reaches this message
through air

only to him
sworn to receive

so loses a name another letter
to hear from

another place to know
that it is there

not here the message
stretches in the name of

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

بدا لك سر طال عنك اكتشافه
و لاح صباح كنت انت ظلامة
و انت حجاب القلب عن سر غيبه
و لولاك لم يطبع عليه حتامه

Before you broke a secret, shedding light
upon itself & for your darkness, a new day;

you veiled the heart from the secret of its hiddenness,
& if not for you, the seal wouldn't have pressed.

- Al Hallaj

Monday, March 01, 2010

Correspondence with Al-Hallaj

I've decided to just call these translations "correspondences", since they're clearly not attempts to transfer the syntactical structural of the original into English -- an impossible task, as many have noted -- but efforts to recoup the sense of language meeting itself.

This is a feeling one gets from reading most Arabic poetry, since the language is so overwrought with semiotic correspondences that it seems capable of saying the whole world in a sentence. But this sense is especially important to the poetry of Al Hallaj, who uses language so stark with meanings that it appears, for a moment, appears translated. There prepositions become personal encounters with the Venerated. There one's own organs are thought to reside within the one provoking the sensation. There meaning addresses itself back to origin, but an origin that refers only to itself endlessly. There, at the "semiotic core" of the poem, is a lunatic encircling himself.

It would be a mistake then to approach these poems by translating the literal. If for Al Hallaj language is always already pointed towards its origin, then translations cannot consist of the correspondences between two languages, but one language, passed and back and forth between corresponding souls. How do they find each other? The one calls out to the world, shouting "You there," the other calls back "You there."

ﻓﻴﻚ ﻣﻌﻨﻰ ﻳﺪﻋﻮ اﻟﻨﻔﻮسَ إﻟﻴﻚ
ودﻟﻴﻞ ﻳﺪلّ ﻣﻨﻚ ﻋﻠﻴْﻚ
ﻟِﻲَ ﻗﻠﺐٌ ﻟﻪ إﻟﻴﻚ ﻋﻴﻮنٌ
ﻧﺎﻇﺮاتٌ و كله ﻓﻲ ﻳﺪَﻳْﻚ

In you is a meaning that keeps souls
and signs, from where they came, guided back

towards you; the heart I have has only
eyes for you -- beholding all, while all is in your hand.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Another new project --

A collaboration, with Jem Sweeney.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I die before the eyes of any messenger
who’s never been subjected to the word

of his own name on page, and write
to him, the one who calls himself

the prophet, as though I’m calling
on a thing already dead.

Dear Prophet, it's only out
of direness, a duty to our tongue gaining

on oblivion, that I address you
by the name you still make

believe your own. Dear Prophet, we’ve lost
the message -- broken off the tongue

of the one who carried it & need
to teach this mute how to write

in our hand, beginning with the names
of buried men. Dear Prophet, we've given up

our own to reconstruct
a tongue in which one piece is always

rotting; now the rest
will go. We stand waiting

for another one, cut off
by the only tongue in which we hail.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Loose translation of an Al-Hallaj poem

أريدك لا أريدك للثواب
ولكني أريدك للعقاب
و كل مآربي قد نلت منها
سوى ملذوذ وجدي بالعذاب

I want you & don't seek your merit,
but wanting I return for retribution;

all I sought, I earned only from the sweetness
of my hunger for the torture.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A loose translation of a Sumnun al-Muhibb poem

افنى الوجود بشاهد مشهوده
يفني الوجود و كل معنى يحضر
و طرحتني في بحر قديسك سابحا
ابغيك منك بلا وجود يظهر

Extinguished is existence, for that which the witness bears
extinguishes it with the significance it holds:

you have left me, in Your Holiness’s ocean, to swim;
within you, to crave, without a crumb of having been.