The Court of Lions

Where poetry is roared like the sceptre of a king
Where poetry rains down like the very tears of heaven
Where waterspout lions pour from their stony hearts that suddenly flow
Where the flagstones are sun-warmed and rough as a lion’s tongue
Where songbirds are heard even when no birds have sung
Where, at water’s edge, we can step beyond the threshold into another world
Where dawn rises to the call of the restless mind
Where ragtag gypsies suddenly become royalty draped in sunray ermines
Where hearts find temples of stars whispering in silence
Where excitedly we return again and again to the courtyard
Where giant tawny wings sweep the velvet dust into glittering clouds
Where the earth shakes to the tread of colossal words
Where lovers dream in emerald gardens of jasmine and nightingales
Where we spout a line of crystalline song into infinite dimensions.

Till We Have Your Face

I thought I had seen love, till I saw Your face.
My eyes were all unopened, till I saw Your face.

My peacock’s tail-feather eyes fanned so
perhaps my Lord you should outlaw Your face.

My cheeks weary of tears raining on them
while waiting to behold — without flaw — Your face.

The Beauty and Majesty of… (known worldwide
from the Mongols to the Mississippi Choctaw) Your face!

Your Beauty is so (g)astronomically refined
I tell myself not to gnaw Your face.

I become so hopelessly enamored
I can describe it in Chickasaw — Your face.

Vision and voice alike were overcome, and now
with every line I write, I draw Your face.

What is it that fills my knees with watery fear
and my heart with simmering awe? Your face!

So usually aloof and self-controlled
in Your Presence my heart’s made raw — Your face!

In the opal dawn above the bright savannah
and the bloody print of the lion’s paw, Your face.

In the criminal echoes from a starving urban alley
and the solemn sounds of a court of law, Your face.

Lying in footprints gently pounded in the snow
and the grimly gripping grackle’s caw: Your face.

Hopping in rapt admiration in the presence of…
like the inquisitive jackdaw — Your face

Wonders of beauty, wonders of the world around
the wonder before me (laughing Ha! Ha!) — Your face.

All my world is icicled woe.
And what might make it thaw? Your face!

And out of excessive love from (purring) all of us
the Court of Lions retracts its collective claw — Your face!

Majnun and the Olive Tree

Canto I

Midway on a dusty trail through the sand
between a lion and a camel on the road
as if far away in a strange Martian land

Majnun wandered heat-stroked with a load
of such heartfelt passions of both love and grief
a lesser man than he would just explode

but he pressed on with deepening belief.
From his footprints living flowers sprang.
Untroubled by the bandit and the thief

was he. Around him nightingales sang
but he was blind to all, and stumbled on
with cotton-arid mouth, while hunger rang

his belly like a bell. Majnun was gone
from this world, from this land,
yet for his beloved Majnun stumbled on

across shifting seas of glittering sand
and down forlorn fallen valleys until
pausing by a stranded olive to stand

beneath its quiet shade, he found no will
left in him but to rest beside
a pool of his own tears. Then on a hill

along the furthest horizon he eyed
a vision fleeting and faint
that stopped what supplications he had cried:

Layla in all beauty without constraint
sailed towards him. The tree burst into flame
but the act was as if a fiery feint:

it burned no leaf but was gentle and tame.
The olive grew in brilliance and height
until taller than the mountains it became.

“This is your ladder.” Layla spoke in flight.
“Can your maddened heart withstand ascent
past the tatters of day and slender spindling night

until its trials and joys are your sole lament
and separation from me your single-most despair
in every earth-world’s illusory event?”

Her words plucked his heart-strings in the air
yet could it be his Layla, his own?
And of this fear he told his heart, his teetering mind – beware!

All around the olive trunk there had grown
a staircase spiralling towards heaven
and breathless wonders hitherto unknown.

How could he pause for even six or seven
seconds before letting his heart’s foot fall
forward on rising (as if in yeasty bread the leaven)

breath-stairs upward toward her enchanted call.
His anxious legs bounded ivory steps for
forty days and nights. The world seemed as small

as a marble rolling on an endless floor
or an apricot on a starry banquet cloth.
Majnun spread silken wings, began to soar

and circled toward his Layla, maddened moth
candle-drunk and sucked into the light
lover struggling to fulfill his troth!

The heart and focus of his spiral flight
(now effortless, as though the very air
had borne him on its back) drew into sight…

and then his foot fell on the final stair.

Canto II

But before we get ahead of ourselves
in this magnetized dome of love
and reach arrival before Majnun delves

the way slender fingers may enter a glove
of soft suede or a spirit enter a clearing
like a shuddering fawn might enter a grove

having braced itself against all fearing
with its mother doe near to calm it,
since this illumination can be a searing

experience for the faint of heart, no qualm it
can countenance here, no fleeing
from His Glorious Face, no psalm it

Can recite in subsitute for being
lost in the blinding glare of Divine haze
through which there is being without being

requiring from the heart but Praise
in a storm of the Ineffable beyond
what we can possibly express, though days

and days pass, eons even, as if the Pond
of watery Light God’s blessed this planet with
reverberates through every silence and every sound

and animates the most recondite myth
from humankind’s beginnings to right now
in the heart of every Rabindranath, Ling or Smith

that expands and includes every universe’s meow
or roar through cosmological time and space
even more than the human tongue can possibly allow

its articulations to enunciate, so vast His Face
that Majnun becomes both happily obliterated
and fearlessly and effectively effaced

until One Note of song alone is reiterated
throughout his both soulful and corporeal clouds
of mortality and that song resounds titillated

by every baby’s cry as well as every rustle of shrouds
so that it goes the span from birth to death
and includes both every person alone or in crowds

and every one of God’s creation that takes a breath
gasps and contracts in one collective sigh
until it seems all life’s succumbed (unlike Macbeth)

as sweetly as a raindrop taken leave of sky
is received in an oceanic embrace.
Where on that last step can one cram an I?

When in a manifestation of Grace
Is there time to call out an Alif? Lam?
Tamarbuta? What shall mirror your face

when you find yourself the mirror? You swam
in a hundred oceans, but can you swim
where there is no shore? You slam

a hundred doors, one lies open to Him.
The very one that scholars all through the ages
have pondered, through clear lights and dim

of whatever heart’s inspiration held by sages
is available to them, who speak to all of us
and in their lonely cells fill pages and pages

of scholarly and wild discourse, a plus
to the expanding dimensions of our hearts,
as we also ponder and meditate and discuss

the Prophet’s own ascension, that imparts
(peace be upon him) a light on our own path
and we avoid the world of theological darts

and the literalists’ unconscionable wrath
about this most beautiful aspect of God’s Way
with all its prophetic precedent (you do the math)

in our beloved Messenger’s example. We say
Majnun in a much diminished realization
(none can match the Prophet’s night nor day

nor the totality of his exalted Station)
had what experience God granted him to have
of whatever it is we call “annihilation.”

It might be better in the long run to save
words, and say: “No Majnun, no Layla, no olive tree!”
For at that moment the very soul, though brave

is more alone with the Alone, and he is not He,
of course, though none other may subsist. Then
who is he? Light! Presence! Sublimity!

Qualities beyond our notions of where, or when.

Canto III

Majun returned unto himself
and found a stranger and a slave.
Layla stood by in her radiant self

and hand-in-hand to him she gave
comfort and direction. They started down
the stairs beneath the architrave

of Heaven. Majnun’s reason, overthrown
by earthly loss, lay quiet in his breast
as lizards sleeping on a desert stone

as tideless oceans, fallen stars at rest
in moveless space. He saw in Layla’s eyes
the true, but hidden, object of his quest:

not love, but Love. No roof but open skies
spread wide enough for Majnun’s opened soul
since miles are nothing to a heart that flies.

In ecstatic flight angels barrelroll
and like giddy stars shoot and soar past night
in wreathes of fire like dancing stones of coal

in vistas far too wondrous for mere sight
accompanied by sounds of sensuous song
made suddenly galactic by intensest light.

Majnun’s heart pulsed its sonorous gong
in silent radiolarians of shimmering microscopia
whose focus plummets deeper than a throng

of funneling celestial cornucopia
whose soft spirals sheath the subtle secrets
of the deepest darkness. Ethiopia

from any of its silhouettes
never had so deep a contrast
as the moon framed with starry rosettes:

A pearl dangling on the night’s ear. They passed
a diner and thought they’d stop for a hot dinner
but then decided to skip such earthly repast

in favor of that sweet trajectory that’s thinner
than the tiniest hair swiveling on the head of a bee
but in fact is wider than the sky itself in its inner

majesty and scope vaster than time or eternity.
They continued to where a host was seen
of angels bearing standards for them to see

the names which each would boast: Jalal ud-Din
‘Abdul Qadir — Ahmed — ‘Ali
Mu’in ud-Din — Diya ud-Din — Baha ud-Din

Najm ud-Din — Yahya — Bani ‘Alawi.
There were other names too far to be read.
Each aquilifer carried a great tome that he

would hold high above his praise-shouting head
and bannered multitudes behind would join
in endless praise of each name that was said.

Now they could travel through any tenderloin
or desert, rundown ghetto or fine high-class mansion
district, as well as this world with its purloined

materiality taken from the Creator’s generous expansion
of Rizq, that bounteous overflowing productivity
that no one, either child or woman or man can shun

while being human in the great human proclivity
of wandering this world in search of God’s divine purpose.
So Majnun, now with saintly aid, and Layla’s civility

continued in this world’s dimension, whose nose-diving porpoise
seem unconcerned with such searching human thoughts
that have itched us from our time as cradle-bound papoose

to old age when the wind of time biologically rots
our mortal coils, these bodies, but intensifies our souls
within these Great Potter’s clay and water pots

to better withstand mortality, as it rolls
inexorably forward. So Majnun also continued
with his vision of Layla, ancient as the Dead Sea Scrolls,

within his cavernous heart. Now his heart imbued
with Light upon Light’s protection and pure kiss
moved with deeper and intenser calm, subdued

by catastrophe, his own madness, into bliss
to follow her sweet example, where before he reeled
in drunken passion for her, now he saw with Swiss

clockwork’s certainty, enough to find the sealed
dimensions of Heaven and Hell in all their grandeur
as well as all their more horrific splendors revealed

to him, descending by the secret Dantean voyeur’s
steps past sulfurous furies and darkness, but unmoved.
For now not Majnun but the Greater Power was the doer.

For when from ourselves we are thus removed
to him who knocks, the door will be opened,
asks and is answered, he finds who seeks; proved

by the lives of the prophets and saints penned
by the graceful plume of destiny
to blot out despair and faults mend.

Majnun saw a bright assembly
of twelve emerald turbans in the hands
of twelve angels. The luminosity

blazed. Here an angel-lord commands
his roost with burning blade and bejeweled staff.
Majnun asked the sky-thane, “Whose honour demands

thy post?” He replied, “On behalf
of those whose names I am veiled from knowing.”
And then he smiled and gave a laugh.

They came to where an angels were crowing
from four castles atop four lakes.
And in each citadel was glowing

turbans as black as viper snakes
or a nebula dark and strong.
Layla whispered, “When the Earth shakes,

these fortresses are for the throng
who distilled the law from falsehood.”
To hurry them onwards a song

she sang and soon enough they stood
in sight of three golden mountains
crowned with forests of agarwood,

white turbans, and milk-flowing fountains
that goblet-filling angels sat by.
Layla said, “The Lord of All destines

these peaks for those whose minds could see
past the pitfalls of deviance,
preserving truth and orthodoxy.”

Then they saw mountains more immense
with great turbans gold and gleaming.
If Majnun had enough defense

he might have seen the Light Redeeming
that those mountains circled around,
but he swooned and fell to dreaming.

Majnun awoke upon the ground
between a pool of tears and an olive:
no lion, no camel, no thief, no sound

of nightingales wafting. An olive
and a pool of tears – nothing else
but in his hand: a golden olive.

MAJNUN’S LAMENT

“I have brought no gift, I can only hand my heart
to You, already owner of my soul and every gland, my heart.

I would bring You rubies, silver and peacock plumes
but all I have is a handful of desert sand, my heart.”

Majnun says this, to that wondrous Presence who looms
in absolute Oneness, “Single beyond any ampersand, my heart!”

His trek on the Path to Layla’s intimate Station
brings him such ecstasies, “Oh lush, bounteous land, my heart!”

Though all he has is his pauper’s grain of sand to give,
self’s unreality, “I vacate, for You to expand, my heart!”

He drifts alone but serene on the ocean dark with storms
“Forgetting You is the only reef that might strand my heart.”

He passes untouched through the concerns of the kingdoms
of men. “For Allah alone can command my heart.”

“Thirsty as desert, strong as earthquake, sweet as attar,
mad as a dervish, lawless as a robber band, my heart!”

Oh but that it may calm a little in every furtive moment,
Peace! Peace! I ask of you. No more contraband, my heart!

“I would sing you Greensleeves but you’re already wearing them;
Delicately dangles from one frayed, green strand my heart.”

Such wrote one enslaved while still a stranger to love;
Such wrote Majnun that you may understand my heart.

LAYLA’S REPLY

You seek me in sweet sips of wine and in every new night.
You seek me at morning’s first sign until hours again melt into night.

By day I am only a shadow dancing on the wall of your heart
but I grow round under the moon on every silver-blue night.

Like a luna moth, I fold my wings and hide from the too-harsh sun,
then, like a falling star or a rising prayer, I fly through night.

Do you truly wish my love to adorn your wedding bed?
Then lasso me the sun, wrestle the stars, and subdue night.

Come now, why the wait, why hesitate,
if love be your light, what fear have you to pursue night?

If you find me, my sweet aspiring love,
Layla promises you will never again rue night.