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.