a red tower
with no bell
into the sky
in the sunshine
the chuppah, the wedding bower
stands ready and garlands of flowers
await the marriage of
what may well turn out to be
Water and Fire
Heaven and Hell
A note on Abdelrahman ibn Khaldoun, who appears as a character in this novel.
An Islamic historian and sociologist, ibn Khaldoun was born in Tunis 1332 and died in Cairo in 1406.
His family was of the Tunisian elite, and he received a thorough education. He served at several courts in the Maghreb (north-west Africa), and was twice imprisoned. While in seclusion in what is today’s Algeria from 1375- 79 he wrote his famous Foreword (muqaddama), the first volume of his celebrated Universal History.
In 1382 he received a chair at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, acting as a judge and a teacher in Islamic law.
His fame was so widespread even in his own days, that he was received as an honoured guest with the Tatar ruler Tamerlane in 1400.
The Universal History is a central source for the history of north Africa, and the Berber people. But it is his Foreword, where he outlines his philosophy of history, where he underlined that dynasties have a tendency of lasting for a period of three generations, where after a new dynasty wipes out the old one.
Behind this is the theory that the first generation of a dynasty still holds on to the hard and demanding life of the countryside, the second generation is the one picking up the culture, while the third generation degenerates, and picks up all commodities from urban life.
The weak third generation had to a large degree lost its capacity to defend itself, and was therefore an easy victim when a new rural dynasty arose.
Ibn Khaldoun lived in a time of changing dynasties, and some of the most famous, like the Almohads and Almoravids, had lasted about one century, or three generations. Needless to say, they did not look kindly on ibn Khaldoun and his theories.
Ibn Khaldoun saw a strong connection between social change, and the climate and the level of economic activity. Societies were held together by social cohesiveness, and according to his theories religion served as a strengthening factor.
Add Water to Fire, the Fire goes out.
Add Fire to Water, the Water boils away.
Nothing is left.
Fire has bright eyes, high ideals, dreams.
Bur Fire cannot stay.
Each new lovely woman, each new ideal,
new dream, comes swirling out of the future and …
is gone. Like Water.
Water never looks back.
But nor does Fire.
I put my signboard in the back seat
and we tacked through the fleet of trucks
in the parking lot and onto the
hot open road. She looked dry.
Where you goin’?, she’d asked;
lips and beef jerky: I’m Carla!
Her jaw, blade straight, softened in powder,
her earrings swinging, one-handed.
Her face was smooth and pale, no hair;
her colours borrowed from elsewhere,
she smelled of meat and sweet freesias.
Pleased to meet ya, she said,
her voice crunching under the wheels.
You looked like you need a ride and I
need to hide myself from sleep you see.
She drove in bare feet.
Hon, get me a cigarette? She pointed;
I rummaged around and found a penis in a jar…
Oh right, she said, that’s weird, I know,
but that’s the worst I have to show you.
Whose is it, I asked – It used to be mine, she said.
It’s in a jar, I said – I had nowhere else to put it…
In twilit silence we slid northwest.
The sun was the colour of a two-bar heater,
switched off and still warm. Taking me back to
distant days huddled in layers
of endless tea and jazz in my fuggy room.
The window’s gap sucked on her cigarette,
licking it clean of ash, blushing the tip.
She smoked like she knew what she was about.
The hairs on her left arm were vermillion,
soon to be lost to the door’s shadow.
She treated her hair like a sleepy toddler
slung this way and that, stroked and tolerated
but her eyes, hazel?, were made for the haze
of a long, long road. She seemed to have no edges.
I’m throwing it from the Golden Gate, she said.
I rested my hand on her shoulder,
the strap of her top under my fingers,
we drove into orange darkness.
I treasure this poem because it reminds me of all the weird people who have given me a lift at various times in various different countries. Many of them were lovable and doing me a kindness. Some of them not so much. But Carla – how I would have loved to accompany her on that ride! (Perhaps only in America …)
Despite, or perhaps because of,
ten years in a monastery,
the sight of a nipple caught him unaware.
It popped out quite by accident,
was tucked back in again
almost at once, but not before
it had burnt itself into his memory,
along with long bare legs, green eyes,
the smile of an angel, and auburn hair.