Listen to Mark's digitally produced audio version here:
THE DILEMMA OF AL-KAMALI
In every muscle there is a suppressed howl
And like no other scream is the scream of a knockdown
It is the despair of fear & timidity
Inside the boxing ring
Hands are now truncheons
They know no mercy
Is the arena like a balance
The size, the height, are of no importance?
But scales themselves are a misleading measure
The two pans are never equal even when they appear so
How can a kilo of dust equals a kilo of blood?
Look at it
Look at it
A king-size statue on top of the court-building
A statue of cool, limestone sobriety
The sword is in the right hand
The scales of justice in the other
Reassuring of course but look at it again
Visual consolation no more
Since when is damage redeemed by punishment
Playing on words
Maybe just like tranquillizers
A temporary truce between pain and screams
The damage could last for ever
But what has this to do with Mr. Kamali!
Have I lost the knack of versifying
Why should I start with a tedious preface
Only in begging should there be a stutter
Only in a new love should there be hesitation
Again what have the scales to do with Mr. Kamali?
Or indeed why has boxing cropped up from nowhere?
We were not fighting
There is no ring after all
At least none that anyone could see.
It is true he is some inches taller than me
His chest is high like a sportsman
On the scales or indeed in the ring
Size, height or width can hardly matter
Let him show off then and who cares
He was a minister
Used to having a hot line to the president
And cracking dirty jokes with him
So what! I have my own dignity that should be kept intact
Yes, to the bitter end
It is true we were not in a ring
At least no-one can see it
Oddly, the first bout began on the train
We sat opposite each other
His cheeks were rigidly tense and getting darker
Like burnt meat
His high chest was gasping for air
Aquatic animal stranded on dry land
As if suffering from a stone in his bladder
(It was taken out by a surgical operation
It had the shape of a heart
His wife made a hole in it and wore it as a necklace)
The train moved slowly but with sure puffs
The buildings on both sides also moved like rivers
Cold wind sneaked up the trousers
First he drew back his head
In the way of a tyrant who does not want to listen
Some inches taller than me
His chest is a hand-span wider than mine
So what I said to myself
I will never throw in the towel
Even if he wears a lion's mane
I put my dignity in one pan
Let him put all his offices and rhymed verses in the other
I was waiting cautiously for his first move
He looked at the meadows full-face
They were neatly lined as if by a ruler and compass
Freshly green as far as one can see
Spotted with cattle and tractors and larks
All of a sudden a sigh burst out
That could blow out ten candles at once
Better be silent he said in a veiled voice
Walls have ears hinting at the authorities
And the patch he added is smaller than the rip 1
His face is getting darker still
A smoke of conspiracy clouded his eyes
Has he a coup up his sleeve?
- Secrets are amassed on the scales
They are heavier than all weights and measures -
The train drives on through the cutting icy winds
And passes small cities without reducing its speed
Trains make faces yet paler
And mouths drier
And skins stickier
And bladders heavier
He bit the sandwich with a wry face
Looked at it with disgust and threw it out of the window
It flew away in the air with his teeth-marks
My fortresses were crumbling
And swollen was the silence between us
A lump of pain not unlike a fish bone stuck in my throat
The silence getting bigger and more aggressive
Like a suppressed roar in a muscle
He looked at a far-away hut in the meadow
By itself it was standing
As if germinated by force of nature
And with a voice of a ewe having an abortion
Mr. Kamali ruefully said
I wish I could shut myself from the world in that hut
What! it is really welling up
Yes it's welling up
It is a real tear
He looked at me then the tear fell down
I heard him sobbing like a little boy
That was his real knockout
In its highest fear and in its highest weakness
We were not in a ring
At least no-one can see it
Some years later no more than the five fingers on one
It was rumoured that sorrow had killed him
Or was it a heart attack
At his funeral no escort to his final resting place
Others say he was torn to pieces inside prison
Like the flag of a hostile state.
Translated by the author: edited by David Andrew
1 An Iraqi slang proverb which means the situation is hopeless or impossible.
Now holds all that's perceivable to sense
and more-than-senses (meditation? prayers?)
in concentration, pure, refined, intense.
Now abstracts (from potential) abstract layers
to concretize them in self-evidence,
for instance, in what happens to the hairs
on arms, and skin-pores, when coincidence
shivers the frame and radiant fulness flares,
or when a sound sparks off a resonance,
thrilling and chilling, from the gentlest airs.
Now's curious landscape (flat, steep, deep, thin, dense)
subsumes all borders and contains all wheres
in innocence and in obedience,
contraries coexisting unawares.
How I am flooded by the giant size
of this one point, this now, this hollow drum
of momenthood, whose mode and medium
consist of glory, radiance, surprise
(phantom, come, gone) before I realise
this mini-heaven, aspiration's sum
rounded in fulness, emptiest vacuum,
cannot be held (distilled) as paradise.
And though this point of now (this full cup) holds
nothing but notness without skin or core
being infinitesimal and one
see how its quick transparency unfolds
pluralities of things just as they are
flickering past no sooner than begun.
Now, crumbling in the vast imperative
of arrowed curves and carvings, falls like rain,
a plaintive, pliant interrogative
pouring away. Nor will you come again.
No presence could sustain, less still summate
the timescapes strewn across your roundedness.
Were you a verb, how would you conjugate
to ramify (breach, clasp) unboundedness?
Still, you move ever constant in your weight
of weightless nothing. Like a steady river
you are what's given, gift that gives your giver
this this, immediate, importunate,
on the specific onrush of your flow
whether we shall accept your gift or no.
Now, brimming, spilling surplus, calls more more
to every drop and morsel of the real.
Though full in plenty, presence cannot heal
this now of incompleteness or restore
eternity through time or evermore
envelop this one moment with a seal
to stamp it still and separate, or reveal
more than it is. Its surface is its core.
Now, never static, will not isolate
itself from the continuum of space-time
through synaesthetic sense, or more sublime
transcendence of itself, or doom or fate.
Now fades and falls away like any quantum
leaving no trace, ghost-speck or shadow-phantom.
Now, hollow drum, old knot, new pleated fold,
mere point, fine spectrum, radiating waves
through time's continuum - thrumming loom that weaves
new fabrics on this energetic field
matted through matter, uncoiled and unfurled
across the dust-swept patterns of our lives -
no sooner swells and breaks than ebbs and leaves,
self-emptying each instant it has filled.
Is this then nothing but the drum the dream
of being patters out its morse upon?
Since now repeats with neither gap nor seam
between (within) each wave, its antiphon,
eliding all nows on a curved light beam,
how then can now be ousted or outshone?
To the Shekhinah
Spillage through now of vast eternities
won't be contained. Now floods and overbrims
coursing through organs, spreading out to limbs
joy (energy) to all extremities.
Perfection, borne on time, disperses currents
into now's hollow chalice (bowl, pool, lake,
vessel, strong-standing, that won't crack or break)
to overflow in tricklings, cascades, torrents.
And so this cup runs over. Yes, it's true
excess of plenty quickens eyes that you
keep turning to me through refracted rays
sprayed under waterfalls by rainbow haze.
Now, transverse to time's flows, re-empties, fills
as, poured and pouring, glory overspills.
A point, a cup, a drum
A point, a cup, a drum, a gate that swings
back and forth, tempting, and then clangs shut, fast,
a meeting glance, a feather fluttering past,
a vista in a vista, packed with things
and each, when gone, rampant with echoings
of next and afternext, bred from the last,
ghosts of a needle's eye glimpsed through now's vast
arena, spreading through concentric rings,
and though no now may ever come again
this now, its then-past and then-next stay wound,
unbroken, in a double spiral chain
of pastness and futurity around
one single coil of presence, to entrain
now in its knot of notness stretched and bound.
Seeing that through this now flow fine and firm
currents of time, directed in more ways
than eyes perceive or intellect can term
even though portioned through divided days,
and hearing in this now pure notness drum
its echoing note (eternity revealed?)
unclouded, light-filled, against background hum
of what-is and would-be, together sealed -
may I in ways I've never dared before
smile, and express this smiling through me spread
as presence, not mere resonance or mime
and though swept by alternate hope and fear,
haunted by ghosts both unborn and long dead,
Here is no mourning
Here is no mourning for what has not been.
These sounds of wind and rain on drums and strings
the elements themselves play through the seen
world we live in, on clustered, cluttered things,
prints of the rainbow, woodsmoke's whorls and scents,
snails' shells, rams' horns, hissing sands on dunes -
in hardy harmonies or wavering tunes
all echo, are each others' instruments.
Scant, scattered, thronged or banked in murmurings,
things being what they are, what they might mean
gets sounded, filled, on resonance between
waves' mountings, curves, arrivals, vanishings.
Such subtle blending of this now's refrain
coils now in always, now, and now again…
To light, in an interior
What else but you supports the strings and veils
meshed into things' appearances and cores?
Sifter of shadows each thing underscores
(thinghood itself being what your grace entails)?
What else but you is pivot for the scales
weighing this mazing criss-crossing white gauze
of net curtains against our walls and floors
shimmering or darkened, as day mounts and fails?
Fulcrum of diamond, balancing between
each thing and thing, space each thing must evince,
we cannot track you, but infer you, since
you are the means by which all things are seen
pouring now, overbrimming, into this,
measuring this this on your weightlessness.