From deep in the archives – the 14th day of Ramadhan, 1978

the 14th of Ramadan, 1978

it was a so-so fasting day,
late summer, early autumn,
can’t really remember the date,
but it was the best time of the year –

I remember it being a long day –
I spent the morning taking aptitude tests
at the Navy Recruiting Office.
I told them I wanted to learn languages,
but they said I had high enough scores
to go nuclear power, which, obviously
was a whole lot better…

I got back to the house late in the evening,
just before sunset.
All the brothers were assembled,
grumpy, antsy, anxious to break the fast
after a long day of work, classes, whatever,
mouths parched and bitter with thirst.

The two Sunni brothers joined us, the one who
smoked Newports at sunset, and the one
with the pure recitation from studying in Mecca.

Chicken was roasting in the oven
and one of the sisters had dropped off
a large bowl of salad, with sliced boiled eggs
and dates on the top for breaking the fast
in the traditional way.
There was a big pot of crowder peas and corn
simmering on the stove, and bread,
and carrot cake for dessert. later.

At sunset I sang the adhan.
The Sunni brothers
did their special rakats.
We waited.
Then everybody lined up
across the living room.

Allahu Akbar!
The day is done.
Thank the Lord!

Salatul mahgreb is taking forever!
A few more moments – a few more rakats…

Salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullah
Salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullah.

Let’s eat!

We chill for a couple of hours,
listen to some Freddie Hubbard.
Then one of the brothers breaks out the book.
Day 14’s group reading begins:

“Again and again will those who disbelieve
wish they had bowed to God’s will in submission…”

“…let false hopes amuse them
soon will knowledge undeceive them.”

The Sunni brother from Brooklyn picks up
and shifts to Arabic. We struggle along
with the translation:

wa laqad ja-alna fis sama-i
Burou-jawn-wa zayyann naha lin nazireen.

it’s my turn. I switch back to my mother tongue:

And the Lord revealed to the Bee:
build hives in the mountains,
and in the trees,
and in human habitations.
Then eat of all the produce
and find with skill
the spacious paths…”

yeah, I like that part.

A good reading.
We stretch out on the floor
and catch a few winks
before Isha and Tarawih.

Ever Since – a poem inspired by Week 8 (The Language Poets)

Ever since that 1st cave man (or cave woman
more than likely) carved an image she had seen
onto a cave wall with a sharp-cornered rock –

And ever since that 1st cave woman translated
an internal feeling (a knowing) into a grunt or a moan
(a word) and gave birth to a new technology
of human expression –

And ever since the 1st tool and the 1st technology
came together, converged in a new mental space
by a superior intellect (already among us)
to point out to us the direction for our deliverance
from total triple darkness –

Ever since – we have been beating a slow retreat,
back into the shadows, back into the thoughtless void –

But there are those among us who just won’t tolerate
the backslide: they are called poets. Poetry is their name.

from the archives – If I Were a Sculptor

If I were a sculptor
I’d carve in stone
The face of my beloved –

I’d sand the surface
Of the stone
To smooth perfection:

Because art should represent life
As it is, and as
It ought to be.

But I digress
At a moment when discipline
And precision are most required . . .

I’d chisel her perfectly
Centered nose, on her perfectly
Symmetrical face –

With care and concentration
I’d reproduce the mystic
Contours of her forehead –

I’d round out her chin
And save her lips
For last.

Then I’d compare
Her sculptured features
To my own:

A grotesque genetic mixture
Of master and slave
Of Native and Negro –

My weathered face
Overexposed and
Burned to a deep dark hue.

Then I’d ask her:
Is black still beautiful
My African queen?
My Goddess of the Nile?

Or has that fashion changed,
That style gone out of style?

But I digress again –
And I am not a sculptor
I am a poet:

And these words are
All I have to preserve
In time, for time,
The beauty of my beloved.

from the archives – a house built with words

I’ll try to explain
the spirit closeness –
as poets –
we share.

Which are
the magnets
that draw us
to the center?

A double violin
concerto there
nourishes my soul.

Might we build a house
with words? A shelter
from the outside crass
and craziness?

Outside –
the spin, the winds
of idiots’ howls
and screams
beckon our exchange,
our participation.

But we resist,
and carefully lay
each level of bricks –
these words.

A Friday poem is
fragments,
an accident,
an oversight,
a second thought –

until I get some
matching verse –
in a message
from afar –
from you.