AIN AL SULTAN
A Spring of Peace
My poem is presented in a dream sequence. Anything can happen in a dream, which by its very nature is surrealistic. Thus slaves from the past, Arab poets who have died, contemporary Palestinian poets and a Hebrew girl from Babylon, meet in my dream and gather around Ain Al Sultan to speak to me and to one another in peace.
While the sun-star rests beyond the West,
I move through shadowed veils of sleep
to a lucent, spilling Spring of Dreams,
where, lustral to the flesh and soul,
the primal waters of this source
are gently flowing, making whole.
here, in silence with the stars,
dreaming through aeonian nights,
poets drift to heal, console,
around a floating crescent moon.
A girl whispers, 'You are as free
as a seagull soaring above the sea.
I'm Dabitum, a slave from Ur.'
She shows her master's seal to me,
rolling it slowly across the clay
- a whip, a rose, a blade, a key -
engraved five thousand years ago,
its message is as clear today -
A slave from Egypt lifts his hand,
pointing to a cedar chest,
'There my master's body rests.
See, rampant on the rounded lid,
two lions snarling serpent-locked;
while ivory sun-disks measure hours,
Horus of Behdet's emblem gleams.
in a field nearby, shrouded in mist,
stands a Roman's slave, a Nubian youth,
amidst desert Iris, each dew-blessed,
yet black as a Bedouin tent of hair,
'Here my master's stallion fell,
struck down by swords, bright as flame.
Look where his sculptured image lies,
his massive head and wiry mane,
cleanly etched by comb-toothed chisels,
eyes, stone-turned in soulful shame.'
Between the eternal and the hour,
deep within my dream I see,
beside the tranquil Spring of Dreams,
from the weaving mists of history,
the singing slave, Horayrah.
Playing on her skin-stretched lute,
she sings, weeping, to the moon,
'May I become a blossom-bride,
look at the orchard and know I'll be
raised out of sullen slavery,
out of utter wretchedness,
to virgin-white and blessedness?'
Resting beside her on a stone,
willow leaves woven into her braids,
is a Hebrew girl from Babylon
who ceases weeping to pluck her harp
and sing these words of King Solomon,
'The desert will blossom as the rose,
with fountains of gardens and spilling wells.
Let us wander together into the fields.
Let us rets in peace among the hennas.
Let us walk at daybreak in the vineyards
to see whether the vines are budding,
the pearl-white petals are opening,
the pomegranates blossom-bearing,
the mandrakes perfume-spreading.'
In the twofold darkness of my dream,
shadows of lote and tamarisk,
moving with the constant moon,
pattern the sands around this spring
as slaves and poets drift together.
Al-Khansa in flowing, saffron robes,
smiles at me, while flocks of doves,
fly down to splash with a hoopee bird.
She whispers the birds' message of peace,
'The rain delivers this merciful source,
drink deeply here and known your course.'
Al-Khansa beckons the poet Antarah,
son of an Ethiopian slave,
who sings for us from among the reeds,
'We Arabs long for our liberty,
yet mirages still pervade our minds
with the silken sigh of poetry.
Our hearts are moved by the golden dunes,
where stars once led us on our way,
from our campsite, tent pegs and ashes.
- our path is strewn with thorns today.'
In the pale moonlight I recognise
the troubled face of Samih al-Qasim.
He sighs, 'Thorns tear our flesh each day,
but we're living like slaves anyway.
The acacia is drooping … Rafah's gates
are sealed by wax and locked by curfew …
each door in Rafah opens like a wound.'
Soon he is joined by Mahmoud Darwish
crying 'Mount Carmel is in us, the grass
of Galilee is on our lashes …
This land absorbs the skin of martyrs.
This land promises wheat and stars.
Worship it. We are its salt and its water …
we are its wound … a wound that fights.
We cling to dreams through bitter nights.'
Fadwa Tuqan then murmurs to me,
'Along our road of agony
Jerusalem is whipped; the soldiers
are drawing blood. But the world's heart
often seems closed to our tragedy.'
Her brother, Ibrahim, a martyr,
then sings of a martyr, 'Serene in spirit …
steadfast of heart … his soul possessed
of high endeavour, more noble than all.
On the path of greatness he walks tall.'
His tribute could be to himself.
May Sayigh joins our throng,
'Please listen,' she murmurs 'to my song
mourned by orange trees that do not die …
tomorrow when birds return to Ghaza
to peck at your blue window sills …
and the scent of jasmine fills the air,
the henna tree will stand alone.
Alone, like a stranger in despair.'
Tawfiq Zayyad sings defiantly
'In Nablus, Ghaza and Janine,
we shall remain to guard the shade
of the fig, the vine and the olive tree.'
From moon-shadows near the Spring,
a man with eyes like stars appears,
a midnight Iris in his hand.
He smiles then gently speaks to me;
his is the pure, eloquent voice
of a prince of poets, al-Mutannabi.
Now our destine is clear;
may the central wisdom of this dream
inspire us as we gather here,
dispelling our suffering and our fear.
So sings our shining water-dream
with light upon exquisite light,
as spirit-sheathed and cased in white,
we sing together through this night.'
I wake to feel the timeless breath
of another desert on my face.
In the cool silence beyond the wind,
I watch with awe our Southern stars
drifting on their cosmic course,
bright as those in the sapphire space
above the spirits of those poets,
who, joined in echoing evocation,
gather at their dreaming source.