Rhapsody on the Dragoman

Part I

I am a dragoman
courtesan of the word
I pluck my eyes to hear
with skill and improvisation
wor-l-ds of hard edges,
a treacherous and loyal
exponent of obsessions
not all men know my speech

in the night I go under
in company of dervishes and learn
why cyclamens sprout in pavement cracks
and mutter promises, amidst the dust,
of the beautiful and the unseen
I ask meaning for
fore give fore go fore play
an island warbler
still with no quarrel
or a swallow
in the line of flight
meandering with finality
knowing that the road is lost
in floating debris
of fortuitous choices
precipitous moves

with impulsive sagacity
I swirl and sail away
vexed in my state of grace
daytime dragoman
nighttime dervish

Part II
When hearts hum in the buzz
of morning light so bright it silences,
the lady arrived at the City Gate
and waited for the tarjuman
she had requested in a letter sent from Egypt,
someone versed in her language
to accompany her to the Sublime Porte.
Only I among the rayahs spoke her tongue
from that island in the northern sea.
Today, following my companion’s counsel
I shed my kufta and jubbeh,
and present myself with boyunbagi and waistcoat in a style
after the French.

I bow and before she presumes
to scrutinize the measure of my wisdom
If I am a fool servant or a learned scholar
I do not climb inside the carriage
I swiftly step up to the box instead and take my seat
next to the driver while I instruct the porter boy
if he receive bakshish to say “thank you” as her kind expect,
and reveal neither gratitude nor displeasure;
she need not know our measure of her generosity,
only count the day’s profit within our own walls;
we do not know
if she desires the sweetness of the sultanina grape
or some other island sweetness.
When heaven wants to speak
it needs few words
to open gateways here, there, and elsewhere.
Trees grow in silence
as do the date-palms lining the river
inside the city wall.

Along the path of Hermes
the wind will track the language down
as we track the dust of love
in the mausoleum smell of mourning
jasmine turning putrid.

When the evening drops stealthily
I will retire to the Dragoman’s house
where hot stone will transform my body to vapory waters
absorbing the contours of the cypress
with long shadows of night in a crimson trance
penetrating the skylight of the hamam
yearning neither joy nor melancholy.
Time to appease my traveling consciousness.
On the divan I will translate for my companions
Verses of the Tarjuman al-ashwaq of Ibn Arabi
My heart takes on any form …

Stephanos Stephanides, Nicosia 2012

For Susan and Harish, υψίστοus διδασκάλους


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