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Amjad Nasser: Questioning Ibn Arabi

[Amjad Nasser. Image from author] [Amjad Nasser. Image from author]


Questioning Ibn Arabi

Amjad Nasser


From Seville to Damascus where I plunged through the scents of Salhiyya’s kitchens and the voices of its persistent sellers until I found you. The sky might be one and the same. . . with clouds raining here and refraining there, with angels absorbed in arranging a mercy that does not arrive, or with migrating birds whose craws carry the shots of pursuing guns. Others carrying the hay of their original homes in their beaks, making winter meet summer.

The stars
Stay up guarding their dust-covered silver
Someone is counting the money of wakefulness with his hands
And someone is sleeping
by the night’s full eye


The earth may be one and the same. People swaying toward night and day with no time to feel, or even care, for this tiring pendulum from which no one disembarks except he for whom all extending ghosts of loss, power, satisfaction, and anger are equal. How can those descending from the clay mountain and the heavy water of lust, like us, have such measures?
The earth, as it is said, turns. It turns and humans, with unconcealed cunning, dodge messengers carrying letters they do not wish to receive. But destinies trackers and they cannot be misguided.


If that which cannot be felt should not be desired and vice versa, why, then, did you try to hide the spot of the hand that etched the shape of its soft fingers on the implied pronouns in your poems. . . and to try to mix the voice you kept hearing, as you were about to deliver the what you were given, with voices that cultivated their huskiness in praise poems? So you tended to the yearning dripping off your hands with interpretation. The beloved’s mouth became God’s mouth, when we know it’s the mouth of the Persian girl whose young beauty shook you and you went on disclosing what a master of secrets, such as you, should not do.


You are the master of the secret
Concealment is the youngest of your disciples
But the master of the secret loves
Like the one who is exposed by butterflies
As the fly out of his mouth whenever he opens it


I would like to believe, my master, that the mercy you promise us has room for everything, including he who rejects it, and that existence in its entirety palpitates in the woodworm that gnaws on the spear and the reed flute. . . and that when we put a trembling hand on a hand that yearns, we are putting it on God’s hand and that the unity of existence is something else, not this metallic humming that envelops the universe.


But do you know what is good about the matter?
It is that you are here under the water wheel of sounds and scents
Without water or electricity, just as the Damascenes
You are not in a retreat in the desert
Or a mountaintop
People go in to you and come out
Wearing head covers, scarves
Black flowing pants
They smell of their houses,
Their livestock,
Pungent Syrian tobacco

I saw Spaniards, Italians, and some Englishmen
In your shrine
Holding maps and booklets
Full of footnotes
But the residents of “Madaris” Street
Reeling under clouds of fuel smoke
And the slogans of the One Party
Need no guide to know you.
Your daily visitors
With their quick prostrations
In your green substance
Never wore your cloak
Nor did they read your “Meccan Revelations”
They do not know the link
Between your divine geometry
And Dante Alligiery
They simply call you
“Shaykh Muhyidin.”

[Translated from the Arabic by Sinan Antoon.]

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