The Muslim Scholar Searching for the Thousand and One Nights (Alf Laila, Wa Laila)

Sam Hamod

(for my old friend and teacher, Professor Muh’sin Mahdi of the Univ. of Chicago and Harvard, all the way from Iraq and the Alf Laila, Wa Laila)


Muh’sin found a thousand versions
of a thousand and one nights,
alf laila, wa laila,
in so many dialects that after a while
he decided
no one
not one
could have
even thought of
writing those thousands
of pages, of those thousands of
versions of the
thousand and one nights, so that
it had to be the hand
of a wizard, someone from outside
this life, someone who knew the
genii, someone who knew
the secrets of Ali Baba, of
Sinbad, and all the seas, pirates
and thieves of Arabia and
the Mediterranean, that was
a bearded genius, who smoked
the nargela by night, wandering
in and out of
dreams, who knew of carpets
flying, of horses that magically lifted into
air, with lights and jewels
all around, with beautiful virgins
who could not be
violated, who understood the wiles
of women, who understood they always
play the upper
trinket, that jangles in the
minds of men, who let slip the
sounds that
tempt men, circes
whose various
cries are music
to panting men’s ears,
he had to have found
the scars of generations of
men who have yearned to
capture this single
woman, the one
who has all the
secrets, but who
only lets them
secretly, almost
silently slip out of a
dream, like each day
is a dream, in the mind
of the wizard, the maker
of the sport and
pastime, whose hand guided
even her bangles as she
danced her nine hundred and
ninety-ninth night, fully knowing
the caliph had already been
by the moon
whose eyes
almond white against
her tanned skin
were a symphony
he could no longer
control, but even as he
breathed to ask
she moved slightly
away, out of his
reach, and even at his
command, did not
in that moment
he was aware
of her hips of water, her
skin light olive
her eyes
that burned
brighter into him
setting him afire

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