Published in 2007, this epic poem retells a historically modified account of the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala (680 CE). Blending history, poetry, art, and current events, this allegory of social justice returns with a fresh and urgent “translation” as the war between justice and tyranny rages on.
A revised anniversary edition of the poem is in progress. Here are some selected excerpts.
to the Revised Anniversary Edition
I mourn myself before my father’s grave.
My tongue, my blood, this air will tell my tale,
The proof of which is buried now beneath
Those desert sands, beside that river’s shore.
I write of wicked kings and those who dared
To take a stand against their tyranny,
Of truth and falsehood, thirst, betrayal, fear,
Carnage, death, despair, revolt, and God.
They called it Heartbreak Morrow, those who saw
The slaughter of the lambs and lived to tell!
I was the only man to leave that place
Alive, and what remains of life I’ll use
To tell you all about the things I saw:
The river and her trees amid the sand.
The tents and flags spread out across the land.
The tents ablaze, the thirsty children’s screams.
The carnage of the dead, the stuff of dreams!
The headless left unburied in the gore!
The armless body lying on the shore!
The baby with the arrow in its neck!
The wailing women bound before the wreck!
The innocent with none to hear their call!
The nation with its back turned to it all!
The thirst, the thirst! The heads upon the stakes!
The corpses dragged by horses! Hear me now!
Lend me your ears, and rid me of this sorrow.
Listen to the tale of Heartbreak Morrow.
I am Marsilius, son of Hesano,
The son of virtue, the son of truth.
I am the son of those who fight
For justice. I seek refuge from the Fiend
Of Hell. In Heaven’s name, I now begin,
Hoping not to cease until I die.
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from Chapter VI. TENTH: PART ONE
This excerpt describes the martyrdom of Wahab, a companion of the poem’s hero, Hesano Hasimus, who dies in the Battle of Heartbreak Morrow.
Wahab, the Arab, joined the noble fight. His bride, Haleemah, wept as he prepared his armor and his sword. He said to her:
My love, if all the world
were mine, and all the time,
Then all the orbs of heaven
would join me in this rhyme,
For I would sail the cosmos,
eternity my ship,
And I’d parade your name—
candescent on my lip—
Across the arc of Maghrib,
to the crevices of Fajr,
And charge the constellations
inscribed in Heaven’s ledger,
And I would dock my station
before them, and declare:
“O hear me, Grand Celestials,
Eternals, bright and fair,
Ya Jady, Lamp of Heaven,
and you two, Farqadān,
And you, accursed Thurayyā,
to your darling Dabarān,
And you villain, ‘Ayyūq,
and Shams, to whom we kneel:
Behold my bride Haleemah,
your Paragon, Ideal!”
And they would sing their luster,
and cinder awe and shame,
And blush their brilliant jealousy,
and croon my darling’s name.
My love, you’d so ignite
that lustrous cosmic lake
That birds would chant the Subh,
and think it morning break—
Had we but world enough,
and time, it would be so.
But now, I hold you, darling,
and I kiss your lips, and go.
Wahab’s mother and his mourning bride called out to him as he approached the field. He cried out to his trembling enemies:
When those of you return,
who live to tell the tale,
And take with you the corpses which
were left to no avail,
And when their mothers see them,
and beat themselves, and wail,
Tell them Wahab, whose fathers
from distant deserts hail,
Delivered them this torment,
and did it without fail.
The troops descended on him, wielding swords and spears and axes. Wahab fought them all. They trembled from his desert battle cries, and feared his god, and withered in his eyes. He split them, stripped their flesh, and spilled their blood, and left them writhing, sizzling on the sand.
Someone behind him came to join the fight. He turned and saw his mother standing there. He cried: “What brought you to this battlefield? You tried to stop me first, But now you’re with me here. This fight is not for you! Go back, let down your spear.”
Wahab’s mother said: “It broke my heart to hear Husayn proclaim, ‘What few! What few! To fight for justice,” so I came.
Wahab begged his mother to go back, so she returned. He fought his enemies, and cracked their skulls, and spilled their guts and brains, but there were far too many, and they cast their stones and arrows. Soon, they beat him down. He cried out with what little breath was left:
My Master, I have fallen
For justice, and for you!
Forgive me, Master, for
The things I could not do.
Wahab was killed. A man beheaded him and rolled his head into the women’s camp. Haleemah screamed, and grieved her darling’s death:
Wail, and Wail, and Bitter is the Grief
of losing him.
Boulder breath, and Coiling, and the Gasp
beneath the brim.
Beloved, Brave and Handsome, Kind and Strong,
Arise and Smile, Laugh, and Hold me close—
and love me dear.
Wail, and Wail! Eternal is the Grief
and hot the tear.
I mourn myself “I Celebrate myself, and sing myself…” Song of Myself, 1 by Walt Whitman. My tongue…air Song of Myself, 1. The stuff of dreams The Tempest 4.1 by William Shakespeare. Lend me your ears Julius Caesar 3.2 by William Shakespeare. I seek refuge…name the Basmala بَسْملة of the Qur’an. I now begin…die Song of Myself, 1.
My love…time To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell. Maghrib, Fajr “Dusk” and “Dawn” in Arabic. Ya Jady…‘Ayyūq constellations of pre-Islamic Arabia. Shams “Sun” in Arabic. Subh “Morning” in Arabic. That birds…break Romeo and Juliet 2.2. Had we…time To His Coy Mistress.
Read the original (2007) edition, The Massacre of Heartbreak Morrow.
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