A Thousand and One
The layout of this room was like a chorus,
Yet some heard the deep-buried ambition.
When chambers seized the night and veiled the great hall,
No one was aware but my cat.
When he watched the nightingale, she was watching the tower.
He looked at the tongue in the cup,
She was looking at the Imam.
Catastrophe always starts with asynchronicity.
Before that day came, the clouds were faint,
The insomniacs’ heads beat on the pillow like drums.
Whose body projected on my face,
A wound spurting blood covered my chanting mouth.
Suddenly the river stopped wanting to be a river,
It turned into a garden overnight.
The mountain wished to become a wick but failed,
Vainly burned its peak into dusk.
Like writers awaited an upheaval
Competing in the dance of falling,
I alone spoke in the first half,
In the second half I believed no one.
In a flash we sank to the bottom,
Seeing the reflection of coming armies,
Only the sound of waves rolling in my ears,
Ambiguous thoughts like the high seas.
I was given many titles,
As if to become a crowd,
Each one of them raised one eye,
To examine the world thoroughly:
Outside the south window was a section of river,
The train across the bank emptied its cargo hold.
A door to the west unlocked,
But it did not lead to any intersection.
The balcony on the north overlooked the park.
Flowering shrubs clustered around the slide.
You said I was staring for too long,
Thus had the absurd dream of falling.
There is a monitoring screen on the east side:
Fiery asteroids walk and play,
Whether they will come is still uncertain,
Yet they often conjure a tragic scene.
Anyone who saw it had
The same response:
Look, the sole truth!
Who wishes not to be offset by it?
I hide in a secret chamber,
With a white porcelain bathtub filled with warm water.
I lie down and raise my feet above my head,
As though running upside down through the void.
Between my feet is the ancient painting you gave,
The figures entangled like clouds,
Blocking each other with embraces,
Like vines drinking from the same bloodline.
I cut out several of the figures and put them in the bathtub,
Together on course to the painting’s ocean.
Their midway conversation makes me irritable,
When reaching the shore I use them to change an incense burner.
Fueling the incense burner
Are many faces,
Smoke swirls into a dome
Stalling at the sunset.
Under the dome stands a wronged scholar,
Who misinterpreted a dream and is sentenced to be cut in half.
Bleeding, half his body confesses to the king:
"I feel like writing poetry now."
Love and Autumn are his attendants,
The poem’s scenery is tired of travellers.
The mountain peaks layered like petals,
A hunter encounters a lion among the flowers.
The lion eats up his body,
Leaving only a budding pious heart.
A small monk walks out of the heart,
Leisurely reading the rare chants.
The teaching in the chants is supremely rigorous,
Words on guard against each other.
The branches of the giant tree covered with masks
Become useless as soon as the morning mist fades.
The peacock swishes its tail feathers on the top of the tree,
Like a cluster of bright bullseyes.
Despite the many friends made on the road,
Now must shoot them out like arrows.
The quiver is embroidered with a red-haired demon,
Sitting alone by the river, washing the island.
The dirt drifts down the river,
In which a fainting horse lays.
A merchant is greedy for information from upstream,
Untying the package from the horse’s back,
And finds a motley woven carpet,
He spreads out its four corners to fly into the sky.
He sits on the flying carpet to train the parrot,
Improvising a city of the future:
Prophets with transparent bellies,
Will split miracles in the fire.
Fire preaches to the water,
Yet the water bides its time,
Hidden in two camel humps,
Secretly reflecting everything.
Everything lies ahead,
The angels taunt each other.
The living ask the dead for advice,
Speaking your and my names.
I stare at the picture in the secret chamber,
Thoughts deduce one by one like formulas.
New books and trips were my two pairs of wings
Yet become two rolled up cobwebs.
The king orders the story to continue perpetually,
The scenery outside the palace windows unchanging,
Only ignorant servants come and go,
Do you also feel the exhaustion of imagination?
There must be lightening to illuminate the distant path,
So you only visit on rainy days.
Water drops spilling over the edge of the bathtub
Like white eyes that break as soon as they open.
I greet you in this confinement,
Scheherazade who exhausted her thoughts.
You and I, pretending to be co-authors,
To write these one thousand and one words.
Scheherazade (شهرزاد) is the storyteller in the collection of Arabic folk tales "One Thousand and One Nights". King Shahryar hated women, and each night would marry a new woman and kill her early the next morning. Scheherazade kept the king interested by telling him stories and delayed her death. The stories she told went on for one thousand and one nights. During these nights the king was gradually affected and eventually changed, and the two lived happily ever after.
The situation Scheherazade faced – the endless demands of ruthless readers – is also a common situation for those that work in creative professions. To me, her story is like creating under extreme conditions that can exhaust one’s imagination. Life in the king’s chambers – the monotonous scenery and encounters – is meager inspiration for the duration of one thousand and one nights. In the current situation of isolation and lockdown, I recalled Scheherazade and wrote this one-thousand-and-one-word poem.