Ghazal:  The Reluctant Anchorite

That old, corrupt pleasure – don’t you remember – to show yourself!

The clothes curtseyed: we’ll help you conceal and show yourself.

With make-up like precious oil in the lamp of Best Lights

You were calm as brocade. Like a queen, you’d bestow yourself.

Not one of the notable planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter – or

His retinue of moons – no – but you surely owe yourself

A whiff of ineffable you-ness, which others sense

On the air: it’s not the same when you video yourself.

The looking-glass hazes with glitterless star-dust. Perhaps

You’re a mould in a bathroom crack, learning to grow yourself,

Or, like some darting rodent the cats and time forgot,

You’re the tiny museum where you hastily stowed yourself?

‘Oh, brave new normal!’ chorus the screen-walled pundits,

The digital demons of Lockdown. ‘Log in, and follow yourself!

Zoom till you drop. Shop will you swoon. Buy the moon

Without moving.’ I find a puddle in which to throw myself.

‘If you were a dervish’, the sage says, ‘would you stop

Before you’d touched every god, above, alongside, below yourself?’

His hand’s on my shoulder. I’m free to choose silence, or sing

The gifts that name Allah: they name the things you owe yourself –

Forgiveness, protection, wisdom.  Or why not become a Welsh saint,

Buarth Gwarchau the island to which you row yourself!

But first there’s this form to fill in online, dry desert-father penance

Requiring your age, ethnicity, gender. Hallo, Yourself!

On Touch-Write, your fingernail glides a black lipstick! Amazed,

You comb out the curl of your name, and more or less know yourself.

(Note: Buarth Gwarchau – Welsh meaning ‘shelter for cows,’ the name of my cottage) 

Cwyddau:  The Happy Hermit 

Isn’t it virtue to sing

   With cormorant and herring 

Lithe divers, flashing fishes?

   What saint needs a diocese?

Priests throw us a frayed lifeline:

   Be re-born! Be washed divine!

Oh, miracles, oh, stories!

   Catch hold of none but the sea’s.

I tore the tongue from my head

   (A hermit-crab translated).

In the rock-pools, morlo d’wi;

   My mouth drips, my breath’s fishy.

There are no cries of ‘Repent!’

   Across the packed escarpment

But shrieked arrival, scolding

   Theatres of blue-black wing. 

I work with smaller devils,

    Pierce them, scourge the bright scales

With my hazel-stick:  gasped death

    Is their Bedydd  Sanctiadd. 

(Notes:  Cwyddau – Welsh poetic form, 7 syllables per line, couplets rhyming an accented and  unaccented word.  Morlo d’wi – I am a seal. Bedydd Sanctiadd – Holy Baptism)

Hafiz, to Rumi

(‘God has given us a darker wine so potent that,/Drinking it, we leave the 2 worlds ‘-  Mathnawi  IV, 2683–96, The Essential Rumi, tr. Coleman Barks) 

I’m not looking, Mawlawi, for sanctity in this jar,

not thirsting for Light, for dark-browed, dimpled Laylah,

Or Death, or Yesterday. No crimson summer rose

transforms my good brown cup. Sniff it! The vintners propose

this year’s Shiraz (like last year’s) an exceptional vintage.

So when, cup drained, I act the little tin sage –

though you wish there were more ghazals in Paradise –

don’t strain your ears for my profundities!

I’ll stick with our Sufi dress-code: metaphors

should be simple wool,  not silk. I remember one of yours…

The day’s long transport done, at last untied,

the camel smiles at whatever the sands provide.

It pokes around, kneels down, laps up the divine

saltiness of the desert thorns, the same as I sip wine.

Mawlawi, you told us to dance when we commemorate

your funeral every year: we call it ‘The Wedding Night’.

Mix ‘drinking’ , ‘praying’ , ‘death’ and ‘love’:  relent,

and yield to this camel, Hafiz, the winning argument.

(‘Drink the wine that moves you/ as a camel moves when it’s been untied,/and is just ambling about’. Mathnawi IV, 2683-96, The Essential Rumi, tr. Coleman Barks )

Rabi’a, Disarmed


She raised the torch, fingers and knuckles stung

by the sparks spat back from the roaring wood.

The jar that swayed on the palm of her other hand

tried to rip the tendons from her shoulder,

and almost tipped and smashed. She sang away the pain

and some of her sisters, keeping well back, joined in.

‘How fierce young women are’ From the inner room,

that voice was mocking her. It persisted gently,

‘Why do you want to burn down the walled garden?

Why do you want to quench hell?’ She stamped her numb foot.

‘You know what I know, my lord! They’re snakeskins, hiding you,

veils that cover the eyes and mouths which love you!’

‘But what if the sweet shade nicknamed Paradise

is one of the faces I choose? What if hell is

one of the bodies – perhaps Rabi’a’s body?

Rest your arms, put the fire out, take a breath;

hold your hand deep in the sooty water,

the cold, kind water which un-blisters skin.’

From the room where her lord whispered her language, smiles

flowed through Rabi’a like sweet mint tea. 

                                                                   Rest here,

he said, where the quince-trees drink from the aquaduct.

                      Let us both be naked.


‘When people tell me they admire my poems

I bow politely, trying not to show

how little their opinion means to me.

There’s only one whose praise I listen out for.

 I know the voice in which he sometimes speaks

may be my own. I’m always distant, careful —

except when signing off a poem. Oh, then,

wild and sick as a bride whose groom is late, 

I listen, listen, even for that voice.

But on the subject of my poems, even

that voice has no opinion whatsoever.’

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