The Ecstatic Exchange: Words on my Life and Poetry
Bismillah er-rahman er-rahim To begin to present my life-time’s body of poetic work …
Allah elects from whomever he wants of His slaves
for the presence of isolation
— Shaykh ibn al-Habib of Fez
The sun is rising and the sky is lightening from
deep black to fluffy blue and gray
with shadows and tinges of white,
revealing the marble minarets like
giant chess pieces against the sky,
the mosque’s arches within arches lit by a golden
glow around the edges
and the invincible House of Allah at the center
covered with its cloth of endless
night out of which the
Word of God emerges constantly in filigreed
gold lettering around the circumference,
the round circumference of the
square House of Allah
under a sky that brightens as I write
and is now a light blue with a puzzle of
gray clouds moving slowly across it.
I am seated in the first row of carpets
in front of the Ka’ba.
Behind me to my left there is a discourse in Arabic
to unseen listeners.
To my right someone is reciting Qur’an, and
two men with deep voices are engaged in
earnest conversation. An
African in pure white robe and
turban to my immediate left silently
studies the Holy Book.
People pass and people sit, men and
women learning each minute the
arduous delights of submission.
The sound in the distance now of a
marble-polishing machine, a
steady whirr as the
circular brush buffs places so many
thousands of human feet press,
and I am devastated and alone,
my heart a tub of molten lead
about to pour into space.
I am lost with nowhere to go,
childless, friendless, bereft,
a fool, constantly
imbibing my own foolishness rather than the
sweet deep spring of Allah —
I’ve hit zero.
The sky turned gray while I said this,
the electric lights will soon go out,
two swallows cross the gray sky,
an old beardless man in long black cape
walks past from left to right —
is he also devastated and alone? Is he also
childless, friendless? He smiles as he
passes, accompanied by a
younger man. Another soul
lost in the cosmos? Another adrift on God’s
There’s no time left for fancy thoughts.
The Ka’ba faces us with its
We face Allah with our
1/1/96 (from Sparrow on the Prophet’s Tomb)