Scheherazade

David Rowbotham

One day, Scheherazade, the sun rose, red,
From your Arabia perfectly. It rose
As from the last of your nights, as one that sped
So fast it broke the sea’s white sombre glass
With an amber smash. It made the morning-cloud
Vibrate and move transparently away,
Appear no sooner than vanish, with an eyelid’s thud.
Unveiled no sooner than dispelled, the grey
Light like a drift of dunes, in the one light
Like the ending of a tale, in a thousand and one
Same collisons or meetings of day and night
Became you, Scheherazade, and the sailing sun…

And then, O Allah of Millenniums,
As though this, not perfect enough in that day’s sea
Calm as a long pond carved to a quarry of drums
And tabors out of my undulate memory,
The sun set, red, as suddenly and as round
For Egypt, cut to a disc perfection, the sign
The Pharaohs made to raise pyramids of sound
And sire Nefertiti. Starboard again,
Blended of both, globed silver reflecting red,
You, Scheherazade, with another tale
Rose from Arabia in the moon. I heard
An unfinishing voice, which stalls off death until…

Death, tall as the Red Sea itself
That Moses risen from the Nile-given Egypt crossed
To Sinai, falls to smash like a wadi shelf
On legions. Like the Jordan in its rift, lost
But for an older tale, the cruel and the grand
Chariots of the ancient captors in pursuit,
Magnificent being doomed, drowned. Spanned
With a burning-cloud on that Arabian night,
At the cry “By Jehovah chosen and cursed” the sea,
Scheherazade, horizons before your spell
Of miracles, parted for those pursued who are now
Six million deaths. Ill-starred, well-promised, they fell…

Ashes unable to stall with a single one
Told night of a burnished thousand. It is written, to the West
Of tongues the words from your lips and the sung Koran
Are, above all, flamboyant Arabia’s bequest
Most buoyant. In the lamp of Aladdin Sinbad shipped
As sailor. You spun them out with an Indies yarn
That the Sultan’s hands, had it gone slack, would have slipped
Around your daybreak neck and slaughterously sworn
More sultanas faithless. It rings like a joke,
One like brass, rubbed with a light garotte
As perfectly red as the sun that rose and broke
The morning-cloud, and my body to a burning boat…

Until, on the dividing sea, the moon,
A minaret, a night-wife, came up and cooled
Death down to an ardour, life. The stars shone
And the drinking cup and the love-bowl joined the world
With fullness. I saw, Scheherazade, the Muse
Luminous as an Open Sesame to sail
A thief into the robbers’ cave and choose
The lamp that holds the genie, to be wise awhile
Among treasures, to listen and speak, spirited, to steal
Command between the tragic and magically gay
With a gift, the traveller trapped with the flambeau-jewel
W’hich set him free… and the red sun rose, one day…

But O Star of David and Mohammed, of the Three
Magi and the eyes of Buddha, there is the rift
So physical it runs rock through like a knife. Be,
Blue planet, as patient as the cradle dhows that drift
Themselves enslaved by the swift, the raiding thrust
Into a hemisphere from tented sand
To templed snow. On each separate coast
The camel coughs and mounts two humps to stand
Animal symbol of the splitting stroke no man
But delivering gods at work could deal then tell
With tabors. Having passed through that Valley, which ran
Miracle and wound, a voice, mine, drums ”Fare well”…

But once upon a time at my lamp-light’s frost
By the Palace of Tears when the Persians worshipped fire
And a fisherman to his flabbergasting mist
Implored ”I’m not Solomon”, what scimitar
Swooping from beneath the Black Isles’ counterpane
Bangs on the glass Schahriah! the cruel decree!
And what shall I half close that shall be known
Except myself, Scheherazade, in the lee
Of a dawn where the amused mouth of mercy speaks
Salvation? “You shall live till tomorrow morning. I look
Forward to the end of the tale tonight.” Peaks
Of fire like mosques are burning in my globe of smoke…

“And wakeful, entombed in the chamber of my lord,
Threatened I conceived, embraced bore love. It is said
I am the fiction who wove into fact the word
Liberation when bowed above my looming head
Schahriah, ashamed of his murderous vow, swore cease.
To my thousand tales there was just one tale for all,
Grace for a civilization like you face
Haunted and enchanted in the same barbarous ball
Where the blades of strangulation reign, but yet,
Still yet, release. The good into evil immense
Cloud-genie in the jar my poor fisherman’s net
Unloosed, let free the marble limbs of a prince…”

“And I who sailed seven voyages of storms
From Baghdad and Balsora before, old
As the Oid Man of the Sea and his bony limbs
That seized my shoulders and throat with a stranglehold,
I settled down to peace, myself plead
Simplicity and similar guile, the price
I paid, the pearl I bought, the natural need
Of my imperilled teller. Her resolved voice
Bargaining conjured and sent me forth to fight
Serpents inside the ebony gates, and isles
Of shipwrecks gigantic as her unflinching wit.
I am the mariner of her marooned smiles…”

So, perfectly, from Bombay to the Bitter Lakes,
From the kites of Malabar hanging like the rook-monsoon
Umbrellas hooked on the horded collars, to the beaks
Of the quivering gulls across sheathed Suez, the drawn
Claw, serpent or sword of the Red Sea swallowed us,
The ship, white whale, myself, railed dwarf. Down
We went in a wakeful dog-watch. What voyages,
Sinbad, what nights, Scheherazade, of moon
And dawn among cannibal hosts and creations that choke,
Shall I, who beckoned the journey, hazard before
Ivory or aloes are gathered to where I work
At my rapped window, where I burn what waning power!