June 16, 2019

In memoriam Kevin Killian

Portrait of Kevin Killian, 2002
Linoleum block print, hand-tinted (2002), 8" x 10"

June 7, 2019

Palms up ears down


                            A palm grove is slow
                                to give back to the planter.
                            But a happy return is secure
                                once the leaves start to show.
                            Time sustains the palm
                                while other stumps wither.
                            In a race against wheat,
                                the palm is the winner.



Ibn al-Rumi

Meter: majzu’ al-ramal

May 18, 2019

If in New York

Poetry Project
St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery
131 E. 10th Street
Directions and accessibility

May 12, 2019

Sheep for sheep

Al-Asma‘i said: I was told by Khalaf al-Ahmar, who heard it from a man of the Banu Hirmaz, whose father told him:.

       Al-‘Ajjaj came to me and asked, "Would you accept a ewe lamb in exchange for another sheep that answers my description?"
     "What is your description?" I said.
     "Not much hair in the front, but lots of hair in back. From the front, you'd think it was a goat, but from behind you can tell it's a sheep."
       I searched my flocks, and found one sheep answering his description, which I gave to him, and took his ewe lamb in exchange. I wouldn't have done this for just anyone - but this was al-‘Ajjaj, who might bring fame to my flocks!

Al-Asma‘i, The Book of the Sheep

April 26, 2019

Women who loved women

Names of [books about] graceful women who were lovers:

   The Book of Rayhana and Qaranful (Basil and Clove)
   The Book of Ruqayya and Khadija
   The Book of Mu’yas and Dhakiya
   The Book of Sukayna and al-Rubab
   The Book of Ghatrifa and al-Dhalfa’
   The Book of Hind and the Daughter of al-Nu'man
   The Book of ‘Abda the Clever and ‘Abda the Fickle
   The Book of Lu’lu’ and Shatira
   The Book of Najda and Za‘um
   The Book of Salma and Su‘ad
   The Book of Sawab and Surur
   The Book of al-Dahma’ and Ni‘ma


(Ibn) al-Nadim, Fihrist VIII.1 (circa 987 CE). (Ibid.)

April 4, 2019

To the Graces

   On spying Aristagoras, you the very Graces
       flung your gentle arms around his darling person.
   Thanks to you's the fire thrown off now by his frame, be he
       sweet talking or making silence talk with just his eyes.
   Keep him away from me? As if that would help! Like a new Zeus,
       the boy knows how to make a bolt land far from Olympus.

By Meleager of Gadara

March 25, 2019

An imbecile from the Age of Ignorance

Another imbecile was ‘Ijl ibn Lujaym ibn Mus‘ab ibn ‘Ali ibn Bakr ibn Wa’il. One example of his idiocy is that when asked, "What do you call your horse?" he stood before it, put out one of its eyes and said, "I call him al-A‘war." And al-‘Anazi said (meter: tawil):

    The Banu ‘Ijl accuse me of their patriarch's malady.
        But what man was ever dumber than ‘Ijl?
    It was their patriarch who made his steed half-blind, when
        into a byword for ignorance he made their name.

From Reports of Imbeciles and Simpletons by Ibn al-Jawzi (Ibid).

March 9, 2019

If in Chicago

AOS poetry flyer sm
Image source: Composite drawing of IrtaĆĄduna's personal seal
by Margaret Cool Root and Mark B. Garrison, courtesy of the artists
and the Persepolis Seal Project. Colored pencils and gouache by LRSN
(2007 throwback)

February 16, 2019

On the eve of al-Waqit

Abu ‘Ubayda said: This is what I was told by Firas ibn Khandaq.

        Al-Lahazim ("The Middle Ranks") were [a tribal subgroup of Bakr ibn Wa’il, comprising the clans of] Qays and Taym Allah ibn Tha‘laba ibn ‘Ukaba, ‘Ijl ibn Lujaym, and ‘Anaza ibn Asad ibn Rabi‘a ibn Nizar.
        On some pretext, the Lahazim held a gathering whose true purpose was to launch a raid on the Banu Tamim. Their movements were spotted by a man of Tamim held captive by the Banu Sa‘d of Qays ibn Tha‘laba. The captive hostage's name was Nashib ibn Bashama al-‘Anbari, called the One-Eyed (al-A‘war). He said to his captors: "Bring me a messenger, that I may instruct my family concerning some affairs of mine."

        The Banu Sa‘d (who had purchased Nashib from the Banu Abi Rabi‘a ibn Dhahl ibn Shayban) feared that he would alert his tribe, and told him, "You may dispatch your message in our presence."
       "Okay," he said. But when they brought him a lad belonging to no tribe of the Arabs, he objected: "You've brought me a simpleton!"
       "By God," said the lad, "I am no simpleton."
       "You're an idiot," said the One-Eyed, "I can tell."
       "By God, there is nothing idiotic about me!" the lad said.
       "Then which are there more of," the One-Eyed said, "stars or moons?"
       "Stars," said the lad, "by a lot."
        The One-Eyed filled his hand with grains of sand, and said, "What is the quantity in my hand?"
       "I don't know," said the lad, "but I reckon it's a great many."
        The One-Eyed pointed at the sun and said, "What is that?"
        The lad said, "That's the sun."

       "I see now that you are bright and clever," said Nashib. "Go to my family and communicate my greetings. Tell them to treat their hostage with kindness and generosity, since that is how my captors are treating me." (At this time, Hanzala ibn Tufayl al-Marthadi was in the hands of the ‘Anbaris.) "Tell them to unsaddle my red stallion and eqiuip my white mare, and see to my affairs among Malik's kids. Tell them the boxthorn is in leaf, and that the women are complaining. And tell them to ignore the commands of Hammam ibn Bashama, who is a no-good, marginal person, and to obey instead Hudhayl ibn al-Akhnas who is felicitous in judgement."
       "Who are the kids of Malik?" asked the Banu Sa‘d.
       "My nephews," said Nashib.

        When the messenger reached Nashib's people and relayed to them the message, they were nonplussed. "This discourse is unknown to us," they said. "The One-Eyed must have lost his mind. We don't know anything about a mare belonging to him, nor a stallion. His whole herd is with him, as far as we know."
        Then Hudhayl ibn al-Akhnas said to the messenger, "Tell it to me from the beginning," and the lad related all that the One-Eyed had said from beginning to end. "Go back and convey our greetings to him, and tell him we'll carry out his instructions." And the messenger departed.

        "O ‘Anbar!" Hudhayl then cried, summoning the people. "Your comrade has expressed everything to you clearly. The sands in his hand are to make you know that a host of incalculable numbers is on its way. By pointing to the sun, he says that the danger is clearer than daylight. The red stallion he orders you to 'unsaddle' is the area of al-Summan, which he orders you to evacuate, and the white mare is al-Dahna’, which you are to fortify. And he orders you to warn the Banu Malik, and to bind them with an oath of mutual protection.
        "The enemy host bristles with weapons, and those are the 'leaves on the boxthorn.' And the women's ishtika’ is [not 'complaint,' but] their crafting of shika’ - meaning 'water-skins' for the men to take on their raid!"

         Nashib's people heeded the warning, and rode to al-Dahna’. They tried to alert the Banu Malik ibn Hanzala ibn Malik ibn Zayd Manah, who said, "We don't know what the Banu 'l-Ja‘ra’ are talking about." (This was their nickname for the Banu ‘Anbar. Ja‘ra’, like ja‘ari and jay‘ar, is the hyena.) "Their comrade's say-so is no cause for us to withdraw."
         The Lahazim showed up the next morning to find the settlement abandoned, its people having fled. So they went to seek them out at al-Waqit.

From The Flytings of Jarir and al-Farazdaq by Abu ‘Ubayda

January 18, 2019

An actor to the end

 O Death, whom love of jest escapes - you who know nothing
     of indulgence or happiness - what have I to do with you,
 when these are what brought me my prestige, my world-wide renown,
     my income and my roomy house?
 Ever was I full of cheer. If cheer give way
     to mundane vagary and deception, what's the use?
 When I was on the scene, the irate ceased their raging.
     The acutely pained would laugh when I showed up.
 Nagging cares were of no concern, and mischances
      of fortune lost their power to disappoint.
 The grip of every fear was broken by my presence,
     and all times spent with me passed blessedly.
 To see and hear me at work, even in a tragic role,
     was a thrilling and consoling pleasure in more ways than one.
 I put on my characters' faces, their manners and their words,
     such that many seemed to speak out of one mouth.
 Any man whose likeness I replicated for all to see
     would shudder at himself magnified in my face.
 And how many times did a woman behold my mimicry of her
     gestures, and turn bright red, slain by shock!
 However many the appearances my body was seen to take on,
     so many are disappeared with me on an evil day.
 Whereby with somber mien I am stirred to beg you now
     that you read aloud my inscription in pious tones,
 saying through your grief: "Happy as you were, O Vitalis,
     may you be no less happy at this moment."

Epitaph of Vitalis, a mime of the fifth century
San Sebastiano fuori le mura, Rome