To a Muslim Girl

Lady, lost, in the distant light,
Who are you?
Your veil has covered my face:
Where am I?

I watch my image in your eye:
Who am I?
You are too close for my touch:

Words fade upon your distant breath,
Cold and lonelier than desire;
You glide from night, untouched by eyes:
You rise like fire, through a dream.

Lady, voiced from a long dark note
In the mind’s mist:
Your lips have lost the veil
Which should be kissed.

I watch a shadow by the lake
It is not you or I.
Lady, shivering on cold white ground,
Have you still
The world within your eye.


Well, we succeeded in
Deceiving the devil. We did
The right thing, avoided evil.
Though we were attracted,
We never yielded to deeds
Of darkness. And now, old,
Our looks all gone, we can
Boldly reflect, retrospect
On our virtue, veritable,
That sliced away at passion,
Piercing all its veins, drowning
It in its own blood;  how good
We were, how we squeezed
Its sinful promptings out of breath,
And now we can wait through
Long remaining years, wait
At the gates of honourable death.

Lot of Sin

I live, crouched, at the corners of the world,
The edge of the universe, its quiet limit, where
None can see me. I hide from the stern face of law
And the sharp tongues of human judgment.

My sin is me. I am my sin.

What law demands,
I did not give. I would change
Myself if I could live as something else.
But I am here. With my desire, which
Does not die with threat of fire or
The icy stare of those who guard
The gates of faith with their hate.

In God’s wide nature, there is
Room for murderers, thieves,
Torturers, adulterers: all these,
If they relent, repent,
Can receive His grace
And be

Is my sin greater than these?

They will stone me and kill me,
Throw me from high walls, burn me;
They will curse me even after
My life is done: eternal
Perdition; yet what harm
Have I ever done, to man or woman
Or God’s creatures?

They will stone me, who do not
Know me.
I have never said words of hurt;
I have smiled at all who pass;
I have always fasted, prayed
With the poor, with my knees
On dirt floors, shared my flask,
And circled seven times the great shrine.

Give me strength
Not to be, to be free of my
Lot of sin, the sin of being.

But they cannot hear me; my voice
Comes from too far, the quiet limit of
Their universe, too weak for their hearing:
Echoing, eternally in exile, circling,
It comes back to me.

But perhaps, in some corner of God’s
Tender infinity, there lies a drop of
Mercy, for me.

To Yasmeen, after Nine Years

The Years have not dared to
Touch your Beauty
Which sings in the music of eternal spheres;
In you, all is harmony, radiance, wholeness;
In you, Being knows its end, its first and final cause:
There are no edges, no shadows, no burden of excess,
Your stillness moves and your motion stills.

Who am I who could love you?
Who could outform space and time,
Outsense intuition,
Outreach the infinities of Reason?

The vast cycles will move without my words;
The ancient mysteries still sing,
Your voice flowing in their silent notes:
The universal poem
Which Love, not I, can sing.


I am weighed down
Under centuries of
Prohibition, religion,
Repression; I abide by
The laws, I lower my gaze,
And inwardly frown.
I tell myself you
Are nothing
To me, that you are self
Centred, foolish, immature.
I hold down my desire until it
Drowns. I pound and
Pummel your image
Into the ground. But when
I see you, speak to
You, my breath fails,
And my heart pounds,
Weighed down.


One day you will not be there, sitting
on your armchair, cutting coriander, as I sit
On the sofa with my laptop, typing
and not talking. One day I will need you
to forgive my silences and inattention,
To be there to make tea for, to massage your
Swollen leg, to run to pick up your phone.

I am sorry for all my absences, all the times
I should have been there, when you were
In pain, or returned from hospital, or needed
Groceries. Caught up in the cares of
World and career, e-mails and promotions and
Bank statements. Do not let your absence
Fall upon mine just yet: let me let you
See what you have been to me, what you are
And always will be.