I Asked the Man in the White Robe Where He Was From
I am from wind, from fire, from the star’s red question and the oyster’s lament on his bed of ice, from the cinnamon tree’s argument with the cloud and the sand that fills the cracks between the floor tiles once the storm has passed. Do you want facts, names, dates? I am fifty-two years old and the father of four, I live in Shiraz and make brooms. There, you can go now, take these apples of fact and hurry to your next appointment in the City of Knowledge, may Allah’s blessing be upon you. I respect answers but know them for the shut doors they are, mules of thought, dead shells telling nothing of the whole sea. But if you were to ask past doorways and corridors to a room of sky-tiles and cinnabar I would say I am from sea-bottom pearl and the rosebush with its roots in the world before, I am from gloves stuffed with fire, from eternity’s marriage to the instant and the fig tree’s ragged hold on the nourishment of the underground stream. Once I lived as others, you see, with blindness my bread and denial the house in which I wandered sleeping, the verb of my breath conjugated into Monday, then Tuesday, then a week later into Monday again. Each day a rag dyed and wrung clean and then dyed once more. But when the green god of changes came to me with his honey-loud light and his wine he spoke not in words but in dreams that circled ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼like sparrows around a tower of ice, phrases of black rock, scarves of water, a mosaic of turquoise and alabaster that shifted as I breathed. When I awoke I was a handful of wind snarled around the shard of a broken bottle, I knew the sorrow in the heron’s eye and the dancing began of which you have heard so much. So now I swim in the ocean in which other men drown. You ask me what ocean and I look out at white houses and air rinsed with sunlight, at boxes full of lemons, a motorbike, the delivery boy texting his girlfriend and I say that ocean. May I be given to barbed wire and the ruins of the café shrieking with blood, to the vowels whispered by the AK-47 when it is empty, to the tourniquet tied around the river and the burned wreckage of the Humvee bludgeoned by the light of the noonday sun. May I be abandoned to ice and gasoline, to jasmine flowers and chicken bones and the white laughter of children, surrendered to the rain and the stammer of a cloud-fathered voice rattling the branches of the sumac tree secure in its nest of silence. In the middle of the bombed marketplace a mustard seed and inside that mustard seed a prayer. All the pages of the heart’s book torn out and given to the wind. You say they are lost. But I tell you that is the only way they could have been saved.
Copyright © 2017 Jay Leeming. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.