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7. The Aging Rake

you can count, old man. Figure up

how many Springs and Summers you ve lost

remembering how your hair before was black

as pitchy raven s wing, spine fletched like an arrow -

was it June that rained and spilled

milk upon your tarblack head?

Then your fancy was to while away your time

eating or in idle talk, aimless strolling

till from such good works as these your body

grew to that of a senile beast.

Elegance - no penury - awake or asleep

smothered in silk - sweet songs in your ear

while round you swarmed mate-hungry friends

with ebony muskblown swaths of curls.

Gone to the meadow like an ass in Spring,

in Fall sprawl beneath the twisting vine

with a jug of red beside your elbow -

you would admitThere was no one

in the world like me: clever, comme il faut,

poet and penman, deep emotions, and on my lips

le mot juste held as lightly as the

inktipped reed in my fingers. I stretched

my hand to the moon; never was the Emir

seen with goblet and vase if I

were not present. He used to call me

AYour Grace@ - you can imagine how that

sat with the ministers and whatnot.

And always your eyes strayed to the hands

of the rich, looking who brought sweetmeats,

who brought a new robe. A year went by

and no one made his way past your door

- certainly not that orphan brat of your

distant cousin or that neighbour of yours

fallen on evil times. Tongue long for a jest,

fingers short, too short for the bottom

of the purse of charity. An eleganttongue

indeed - for a jest; a luminous heart -

for verse.

If you called all this to mind

mightn t your face and your heart go black

as once your pomated locks? Tick tock

the cruel months counted off your

Junes and Julys while you slept pleasantly

as a donkey in the manger. Time s

Walpurgis Nacht, whirling, swirling

each moment a backnosed witch to blunt

the edges of your youth. The cypress

of your stature s a languid hunchback,

that moonlike visage pale and pocked.

Where are they now, yesterday s sponges,

the hopeful hangers-on? They spit

when you walk by. What s left?

What survives of your days but a sigh?

You never cared for religion -

and you missed the world - like wet bran

which is neither dough nor bread. The world

exiled you from an innocent faith, and for the rest

The Quest (it s your last quip) for barley

kept from Parnassus . The world

and its works are devil s fare - but faith

is pure. And one kept you

from attaining the other. Bit by bit

the days will gnaw you away like cheese

in the mousetrap of Time.

Time . . . .

perhaps there s still time to stuff your ears

against these songs and grow sober.

The milk of time soon fills the gut -

have you not drunk enough? Get hold of yourself.

Hire Wisdom as your Vazier. Meditate:

Why did they make the Macrocosm?

O Microcosm, ask yourself. The elephant

the lion, the camel are mightier than man -

why did God not send a prophet to the camels?

The Galactic Craftsman, why did he call me?

What does he want with an old rake like me?

Of all the animals he summons me -

he must have some business with me, his poor slave.

If knowledge of Him is obligatory

how and why? No, without the How and Why

the task is beyond me. He has neither

body nor weight (unlike us) but He does have

hearing and seeing . . .?

Your body is your grave.

Now don t go apoplectic on me -

gouty old fools like you find it hard

to take advice. Listen: in this grave,

this mausoleum of yours, do you think

your soul and intellect will suffice

for those Recording Angels who visit

the freshly buried? This tomb (I quote

the Messenger of God) is either Hell

or the Garden of Paradise - choose.

Yes choose - it s up to you -. but if you d follow

the better path, find yourself a guide.

And beware of false gurus, those

who call themselves men of sight but in fact

are blind as yourself. Remember

what the Prophet himself said on the day

he delivered his sermon by the Ditch,

whom did he name trustee? What did he say?

He tookAli by the hand and gave him his seat.

If the Prophet took his hand, shouldn t you?

Old man, if you confess, I m right

then Ali is your Imam and after him

Hassan and Husayn. Don t deny it, don t tell me

that after the Prophet you need no mediator.

The Gnosis of Ali is nopersonal opinion

of the eminent So-and-So - it s priceless

as some rare and mythical gem. Acknowledge him,

larn from him, strengthen the sinews of faith

and delight the heart s inner eye. The Water of Life

flows beneath his sweet words - drink

and die no more forever. The PROOF

gives you advice, the PROOF makes allusions -

my son, take the blessed counsel

of your sire.


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