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Scheherazade came to Sindbad, as a refugee,
To face an unforgiving prince and a sleepless Grand Vizier.
Through wind-swept dunes of golden sand, her painted feet, his steady hand,
Lead from Baghdad to Samarkand, where freedom’s prayers disappear.
Her lips, tongue, majesty and youth whisper in the Sultan’s ear;
Softly, but in fear.
Adorned with Persian jewels and gold, and skin barely fifteen years old,
She smiths the words and spins the yarns that define her young career;
From all beneath her golden lace—the trembling lips of her veiled face—
Spawns a world of wonder and grace the nation’s longing to hear,
Of seven wondrous voyages, sailing out from bristling pier,
Carried by her fear.
Arabian waters glisten, arresting Shahryar to listen,
As audience, with her hero, sails from Basra to Tangier—
To every place waxed for her groom, whilst confined to his lavish room.
Her final day seems ever to loom, each week and month and year;
Draped in silk and fur he lays, offering to her mouth his ear,
Heedless of her fear.
Through bracing waves of cobalt sea, on rugged course to set her free,
Sindbad’s theft, murder and greed is honed to serve the sultan’s cheer;
Monstrous beasts and riches unseen in kingdom, palace, or harem,
Lure him from his murderous scheme, ending those he holds most dear,
Strangled under the furrowed brows from which muscled eunuchs leer –
Luridly, and in fear.
Enthroned behind the Tak Kasra, lounging in greed, the Shahanshah,
His corpulence and avarice suited just to mock and jeer;
Yet his alone, that mouth so sweet bids aching loins to moist retreat,
Fair oasis in desert heat, at his call she will appear;
Apostle of freedom, yes, but: at his disposal, I’m clear;
Yet comely, in fear.
Reflected in the sultan’s eyes the youth and splendour of her naked thighs,
While he ponders on bearded jinn imprisoned by lamp and word;
The captor I beg she despise, in constant fear of his reprise,
Exhausted now, it’s no surprise—nor to you, or so I’ve heard—
His garden of Persian virgins; by her alone now he’s stirred,
Fear, to him, absurd.
Hero, brigand, from her mind’s eye, each of them one other than I,
In alleys, shadows, desert and seas with dirk, sabre and spear;
On horseback, armed with shield and mace, to press the sultan’s fall from grace,
Herself remaining barely chaste, to her breast my thoughts so near;
Preserved each night, by me at least, in—I implore, I’m quite sincere—
Deference to her fear.
With a luscious, languid, lustrous form and Sal al Din’s panache,
Little memory of her sister, or her fretful father’s waxed moustache,
Through Arabian peninsula, Maghreb, and far from here,
A thousand nights to share her creed, pharmakon for the sultan’s greed,
His wealth the crop of slavery’s seed, purloined from subject and peer:
The land before the wells turned black in the call to prayer we hear —
Spoke always in fear.
Mouthed in a voice that falls like silk, warm with the wine, sick of his milk,
Come the savage brutes and beasts our protagonist plied to rear
From plaits and pearls and painted lips, and gold, threading over her hips,
In Hanging Gardens where she sips from fountains on every tier;
Her patience, virtue, silver tongue, the unbridled masses cheer,
Sanguine, but, in fear.
Shipwrecked again, truth aptly wanes,
Ne’er a lie, yet: just myth remains.
In her satin ribbons and bows, and unearthly lack of other clothes,
With sailor saved from slavery and the porter from his sneer,
She laces bells on painted feet and, golden skin kissed by the heat,
She ventures desert dunes to greet the equivocal Grand Vizier;
A possible epiphany; in prayer for a sign;
Between the Tigris and Euphrates a garden at last benign;
In their hope and, surely, fear,
But more likely just in mine.