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The Harpist

“O dear harpist,” said the girl by the well.
“Play a song for me that will cast a sweet spell
over my heart that’s weary as can be.
For I am alone now and no-one comforts me.”

“Grandma passed away in the middle of the night.
I prayed for her soul and I held her hand tight.
I know she’s in heaven, mother at her side,
but, oh, the empty place now by my fireside!”

Softly he played to ease the girl’s heart,
plucking at the strings of his beautiful harp.
As they both sang the people gathered round,
there at the well – what a beautiful sound!

They sang seven songs then the harpist said,
“I have a little halvah and I have a little bread.
If I gave you some money could you fetch us some tea?
For, oh, what a thirst has come over me!”

The teaboy’s heart never stood a chance;
it melted right away at the girl’s first glance.
He heard her tale as he carried her tea,
said, “I’ll look after you – will you look after me?”

One day by the well when she was full grown,
and married to the teaboy with children of her own,
the girl, now a woman, saw a very old man
with a beautiful harp in his frail old hands.

“Are you the harpist?” she said to the man.
“Certainly,” he said, “fair lady, I am.
And are you the girl I knew long ago?
We sang by the well, now isn’t that so?”

“Yes,” said the girl, her heart full of joy,
“And how happy I’ve been with my teaboy.
But how have you fared, Sir? Where have you been?
What concerts given, what marvels seen?”

“I’ve played for a sultan, I’ve played for a king.
I’ve played in the places where the greatest sing.
But better than money and the clapping of hands
was playing to the Friend on the desert sands.”

They sang another song for the people there
as the moon unveiled in the mild night air.
And when they were done he whispered in her ear,
“A blanket please–tonight I sleep here.”

The morning found that his soul was now free.
He’d passed in peace the woman could see.
The desert of his heart was open to the wind.
Allah it was who was plucking at the strings.

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Read and Return

I read and return
this self to his Lord.
Alif, lam, mim:
in Self I am poured.

Ya Rahman, Ya Rahim, Ya Shafi, Ya Karim!

Dead on a hill,
I wake to His Word.
Alif, lam, mim –
fly, little bird!

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September Hu

September, love, with fresher winds
all that summer promised brings:
A harvest full of bounteous gifts –
whom shall we praise for this?

‘Who but Hu?’ September sighs.
‘Who is Hu?’ the heart replies,
while in the dappled, turning woods
angels wink from russet hoods.

‘Who is Hu?’ they laugh and sigh,
in wind and leaf their forms disguised.
‘Die, sweet soul, before you die,’
the message from each almond eye.

So we read from Nature’s book
and walk the rustling path of love;
glimpse Mevlana’s graceful whirl,
gown of yellow leaves-a-twirl.

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The Cherry Blossom

The cherry blossom’s time was brief,
and so our pain, and so our grief;
but yet remains the trunk and leaf,
the spreading roots secure beneath.

So scornful of all outward show,
deeply down our way may go;
flower or wither, yes or no,
sweetly sweet the undertow

that draws us like a corpse to dirt,
underground to hug our hurt;
let beetles’ claws unpick the shirt,
touch the root, with maggots flirt.

For here there lies the source of things;
unseen, eternal springs;
beyond the root the Root that brings
our frail, our surface blossomings.

The cherry blossom’s time was brief,
and so our pain, and so our grief;
but yet remains the trunk and leaf,
the spreading roots to our relief.

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The Hoopoe

Shocking as a friend of God,
his plumage in the air,
the hoopoe heralds mystery
inviting us to share.
A drunk one, sober one,
causing us to stare.
‘Huu-huu-huu –
follow if you dare!’

Pink as the rose of
Farid ud-Din’s delight;
an interplay of opposites,
stripes of black and white;
a drunk one, sober one,
such a shocking sight;
yet hiding in the ditches
this one’s delight.

Two feet on the ground,
so he bows to the earth,
eating up the grubs
in the filth and the dirt.
From sober ones, drunk ones
who has not heard:
‘It is from the lowly
the heavenly is birthed’?

In the stubbled field
on our knees we may find
that he has taken off
on a wing at a sign.
A drunk one, sober one,
he zigzags as he climbs;
for sometimes ‘the straight path’
takes a crooked line.

Shocking as a friend of God,
his plumage in the air,
the hoopoe heralds history,
a lineage to share;
A drunk one, sober one,
one beyond compare.
‘Huu-huu-huu –
follow if you dare!’

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My words are all a-jumble,
unconscious of their mark,
but Yours an arrow honed
on every matter’s heart.

I feel Your eyes upon me,
the bending of Your bow.
If I could enter silence
would You let it go?

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The Rendezvous

My prayer mat is
of midnight blue,
like Mary’s veil,
like mercy’s hue.
Upon it stars,
a ladder true
to clamber to
our rendezvous.

And as I climb
these woven stars,
my soul reflecting
I wonder deeply
at Your dark
midnight pouring
in my heart!

Oh, what a scent
of wonder this
of nights they bowed
and bent to kiss:
those friends of God
in ocean’s bliss,
outstretched hands
of ambergris.

And of that night
my Prophet flew
on Buraq to
his rendezvous,
beyond the stars
and even through –
bow’s breadth
away from You!

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