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The chamber’s lights are low
but hearts are shining brightly:
sufis are dancing here in holy
unison, ecstatic.

It is a gathering of those who seek
the blessed Face–and here
sobriety is left behind for drunkenness
of a higher kind.

The Sheikh, their leader, stands amidst
the circle of disciples. He’s tall and bearded,
in brown robe and turban he directs them;
his eyes are those of one who’s burned with yearning.

And around him are the circle of his students–
hands entwined, the singers and those keeping
time by breathing heavily as one and swaying,
hearts aspiring out of time.

The singers’ voices animate
a poem of some ancient master,
more than music–it’s a map for those
who travel on this arduous Way.

The chamber’s lights are low
but hearts are shining brightly:
sufis are dancing here in holy
unison, ecstatic.

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What is it I come seeking here?
Why stand for hours in rows with men I do not know,
Whose tongue is not my own, who’ve come
From far-off Africa–fabled, barely thinkable?
What do we seek together? What could draw us near
As brothers here, shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot,
Our faces lowered, rapt together
As a man in front recites the Arabic Qur’an?

For myself, I’ve shivered at the touch of winds
On rampage through this world–
Icy winds of hearts, of eyes,
Of people’s wretched self-defeat
And fury turned to rot that burns inside;
Where shadows ope on shadows like a nightmare Chinese box–
And each new shadow was an artificial paridise–
Glistening in darkness, a call to Sleep
And hope of warmth that’s felt
As that which touches one who drowns in Arctic lakes, before he dies.

“Is there,” I’d cry, “A Joy that’s absulutely Real and in our grasp?”
Or is our fate to chase these firefly fancies as we can,
Knowing at our core that’s what they are?

O weary one, O shipwrecked heart,
Thou wretched swimmer–
Ridiculous contemporary, I know you well,
Your agonizing hungers and your silent midnight grief
That dreads the dawn and all you find within the world of men–
To you I speak, I know you well–
Come here and stand with us, within this crowded room,
For there is Peace here, this I swear!
Though learned fools croak and crow about submission’s “shame,”
I swear that we know better here,
You see our eyes!
Our faces bright on rising from the floor and setting down again
As if returning to some paradise!–
Come here and lay your sorrow down before the One
Who knows what’s in your heart and what you’ve seen–
The horrors that have scorched your eyes, O soul in pain!
He does not flinch or turn away, He knows your cure!
And when you come to see that there is nothing in your life
That did not come from Him and by His will,
And that within all space and time you cannot hide
Save only in His shade,
You’ll realize what the Treasure is, and what the Quest.
And that the path we tread is “Doubly at your service, Lord!”

O you who have known wretchedness,
Come here and find your dignity,
And honor, strength, courage, magnanimity–
Come join this desert train of loving hearts
And find that wasteland sun and scorpion tail
Mean nothing to the man who seeks his Lord.
The great Oasis shimmers there, beyond your ken–
Your eyes are shattered.
Embark with those who see and have been There.
Set foot upon the well-worn path that led them Home
And learn to trust the One who’ll lead you from despair.
leon4

went for a walk
the streets were alive with
shady strangers
and cockroaches on the sidewalks;
and the dark was darker
for the streetlights’ glare
and the sounds of
descent
filled the atmosphere.

And I said to myself,
“This city, surely, is as base
as any city can be said to be;
or is it something in the shadows
that unveils our souls’ grotesquery?”

I thought then, as I circled back
that to some other man, perhaps—
across the street, say, or watching from his yard
my shuffling person also might evoke unease.
And knowing as I know myself, what lurks inside
could I fault him for an unjust thought?
leon4

“And I long for the blast of dynamite”–Roethke

an excruciating crushing
might also be a waking.
summer’s end . . .

sat in a park at sunset with
my self, some fireflies and mosquitoes—also
dying
on the bank of a stream that had nearly expired from
thirst,
a few
puddles only
there
in the dim light
did languish in that stony bed,
blood drying on a wound.
Was it a wholesome healing?
Was it the false scab that hides infection?

. . . a few bats flipped their shapes above the treetops
on the stream bed’s farther side
my heart was sinking with the day
into distraction
(“I’m too much with this wormtongue ‘I,’”–a whisper)
and I fought to see those bats not flies
leon4