He came early with the news:
the best of Khindif, full-grown
and young combined, is dead.
No one brought their enemies
more fear, nor saved so many
held captive. Their pearl. Excellent
in war, undaunted, always the one
to meet kings: it did them proud
when he spoke. His bloodline
was perfect: you could trace it
back, a column reaching all the way
to the tribe’s origin. As a bright star
The Daybook of Bishr the Barefoot
Abu Nasr, Bishr bin al-Harith, sought out debate and discussion and heard all that was said and so inclined to mysticism. And one day he was walking through the market when, taking fright at the people there, he removed his sandals and slipped them beneath his arms and set off running through the sunbaked stones and sand, and none could keep pace with him. This was in the year 227 AH.
An old man used to sit outside my school every day, playing music on a traditional Chinese instrument. He would move a light wood stick over two pieces of metal. Most of the time the songs he played were slow, but some of the time he’d play ones that were real quick, and at those moments we kids would gather around. We had no problem making excuses to our teachers to leave class for five minutes, or take an extended lunch break.
The driver announced that Hainault was the last station. The car was empty save for him and a foreign-looking bloke sitting at the other end. It had taken him ages to make it that far all the way from East Putney. Transport is a bitch on Sundays — engineering works, limited service, delays, replacement buses. He was quite late, at least half an hour. He stood up with the bag hanging from his shoulders, and waited by the doors until the train stopped.
He had never been in Hainault before and it sounded exotic to him. He got his mobile phone out and shot a picture of the station sign. He walked towards the exit and realised the other guy was still sitting inside the carriage. Perhaps he hadn’t understood the driver’s message; he himself had found it pretty hard to figure out: bad speakers plus accented English. Henry walked towards the train and knocked on the window.
“It’s the last station,” he said.
I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.
I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.
I believe in the forgotten runways of Wake Island, pointing towards the Pacifics of our imaginations.
Meeting with an Arab poet in exile
At that outcast and lonely hour,
that hour of night when choices narrow
until each absence takes on meaning as a cloud of smoke,
between the voices of the drunken patrons in that small restaurant
and the wash of the still sea that beats, below, against its rocky shore,
at that outcast hour of night, that lonely hour,
he talked to me of the legendary poets of exile
and how he’d known them in his youth, he
who still followed the same path,
and from an ancient notebook
which bore on its cover the cedar of Lebanon
began to read aloud his long two-columned poems.