Joseph’s Dream

(Surah 12 / Genesis 39-41)

Pharaoh dreamed

That he was standing by the Nile.

He dreamed the river went

From white to red and

Out of the river came seven cows, sleek and fat,

and they fed in the reed grass.

Then seven other cows, gaunt and thin,

And the gaunt and thin cows

Devoured the seven sleek and fat cows.

And the king awoke crying for Joseph.

“By Aton, by the radiant sun, I will

Die tomorrow—Oh! my poor wives

And bakers and architects and priests.”

But Joseph was dreaming too:

Dreaming of goat-blood and wells and

The sons of Ishmael who brought him as a slave

To Potiphar–and the priest’s wife saying

“He does not know how to love a woman;

Take me and love me, Joseph ,or I

Will tell him you raped me. And he will

Believe me because I am his wife.

Lie back on the silk, arch your back

Over the cushion; I will do the rest.”

Joseph woke to the cries of Pharaoh

Reeling into the room, his robe twisted

Into a knot around his neck.

“What does it it mean: cows do not

Eat cows. Does it mean my death,

Zaph′enath-pane′ah?”  No, Joseph said

Rubbing crust from his eyes and the memory

Of the woman’s perfume. “It means

Nothing like that–it means other men will

Starve: children, mothers and grandfathers

Mainly, Nothing to do with us.  You are the sun

You cannot starve or be deprived of brightness.”

Pharaoh clapped his hands: “Praise god,

I was hoping it was something like that.

I am sorry about Potiphar’s wife–always the slag;

 But I will give you As’enath—you’ll have sons

 I’ll fill your grain stall and your belly will

Always be full of wine, your bed never empty;

I will kill the baker for you–

I will kill Potiphar and give you his head

as a token of my love for you–

Only please, never leave my side

Joseph, Joseph I need you at my side.”

The Hebrew looked closely at the king’s face;

There was the sort of practice that comes

From fright and superstition,

too many dreams, and too little rest.

“I will, my Lord: I will stay—for a while. Only

do this–wash your hands, and your feet

Bring beer and meat and bread, bring your sons

And I will summon my faithless brothers

and Benjamin from my father’s house, 

 and we will all sit together—recline together

We will eat together.”

Ah! Joseph,” said the king—“You ask too much.”


The Flowers

“per omnia saecula saeculorum…”

here are so many poems

I could send

To you, the words of other men

Who felt the ins and outs of love

And laughed at kisses, and in the end

Knew that kisses fade like tulips

After a day. Or I could send flowers.

Love  isn’t  flowers–God—what a

Symbol! beauty killed at its

eruption, plucked from living wood

To die by inches as we watch.


I was impressed with the vase

He gave you: my offering was

Poor by comparison, an internet

Special, “Only five days left

for guaranteed delivery

by February 14th”  And why shouldn’t

Valentine’s Day be about hearts broken

As much as hearts whole?


Six months, a whole half year

Since then.  No one remembers

The flowers or the poison. Well,

Not every detail, anyway.  And

True love blossoms even when we try

To keep it at bay, like the thorny

Wild roses that break the trellis and

Rise endlessly upward, stretching

everywhere from root to anchor

with only instinct and a love for

the sun as their conscience.


My true love is like that:

Wild red roses rambling and winding

Around me until I can only say

Cover me with thorns until

I can see the droplets of my blood

Forming on the pale skin. Twine

Around me, legs and trunk

And torso until I can no

Longer move away from you

Until I am hidden within you

Until I can no longer breathe.

The Mosque at Cordova (Muhammad Iqbal)

This poem was written by Iqbal on a visit to Spain in 1931-32.  It consists of eight stanzas (the first of which has been translated here.)  The structure of the poem is discussed here, where there is also a very literal English translation that misses the assonance of the original Urdu text.  As the editor rightly observes, Iqbal’s sense of language suffers under any translation.  I have tried to capture some of the resonance by rendering his complex verse structure and internal rhyming, using English conventions.


Masjid  e- Qur-tubah

Silsilah-e roz-o-shab

In the flow of light to dark

the jeweller is hard at work.

In the spaces between light and dark,

in birth and death:

Silsilah-e roz-o-shab:

With coloured silken strands,

he works a royal robe.

In the flow of light to dark,

Azal: The pre-eternal sadness,

where the Jeweller speaks

or hisses his decisions,

Weighing you,

dangling me in the balance,

The master assaying

in the shadows, day to night.

If you are wanting–

If I am wanting:

Terii Baraat–

Marii baraat.

Death for the all the worlds

in the kingdom where

there is no day and night.

The works of our hand,

all glister and fashioning

will flash away–

Kaar e jahaa; N be-;  sabaat!

The world comes at last to this!

In the beginning was the end.

Within the form was its formlessness.

Inside the new, its destruction.

At the start of the journey, its end.



In this form*

eternity is formed,

this form made by

a man of God,

a man of passion

a beacon of divine light,

For passion is the center of life

and death cannot overtake it:

Passion forbids death.

Age comes quickly,

in a flash, but passion

is the flood that stops the flood.

In the chronicle of passion

there are nameless

ages beyond

the changing present time:

The breath of Gabriel

The oracle of Mustafa,

The chosen one,

The Prophet’s passion,

The passion of the Lord.

Drunk with passion

from the new made wine

the rose’s face is radiant.

Passion is the mercy

of the keepers of Kabbah

and the leaders of jihad,

the vagabond’s wandering:

It has a thousand resting places.

Passion is the zither and the string

upon which life is played.

Passion the light of life

and passion the fire.


*The mosque    

The Gates


Knowing that you are my first love

But not my only passion

Have thanks for giving

In a single moment the refreshment

Of a journey’s end, at Mecca or

Jerusalem, the cool water that

Staunches a man’s desire.


Knowing that you are my last passion,

My only love, I have praise

For your eyes and lips and for

The parts of you that move sensually

In my imagination, like the

Girls of Lahore on sweet July evenings

With the smell of jasmine in their hair

And breath tinted with ripe mango.


Knowing that love and passion

Flow together, I have songs

That flow from Allah who took

Dry earth from the desert

and purest water

From the springs near Jericho

And shaped you as a wish,  أمنيا

A living soul seeking paradise

Through the gates of love and passion.

Things You Don’t Know about Me and You

When I play piano

children sing

like magpies

so loudly

I lose my place

I think the ukulele

is a real instrument

to be treated like a violin

and not like

the kazoo you found

in your father’s

handkerchief drawer

and I was a tenor

and high F# was

my last strong note

before dissolving

into a spastic

tremulous shriek.

and as dog persons go

I am a cat person

though of course

I know dogs

have hearts

of molten gold

and cats silver brains

that tell them to walk

across the piano keys

ruining everything

to get their head

under a moving hand.

and yes,

I like both Gregorian and

Mozarbic chants


they are two kinds

of passion

one is like

my passion

because it flows

evenly and solemnly

but at its worst

sounds like

the endless tapping of keys

on an old typewriter

but when sung right

say by Solemnes

at first vespers

like the voice

Augustine heard

the one that said

Lift me and read me!

I am familiar, familiar

like the dull hum

of the swirling fan

you have learned

to ignore, familiar.

But you are Africa,

you are Spain and Babylon

and the Tigris running

incense burning to

slice the hot days into

vapours of dizzy grace

the taste of ginger

coffee,  cardamom,

crushed eucalyptus

for my dull dull soul

a voice lost between

weeping and rejoicing,

like the tears of sacrifice,

when Abraham thought

he heard God’s voice

say Stop,

like young lambs in spring

a sound of tentative praise

when you walked into my room

and  looked into my eyes

and everyone

became a stranger.

A Further Wish


Love is pushing the last thing

You loved out the window

Of your memory. Falling

And moving like blowing sand

On a dark day, it happens

Not to bodies but to souls

Looking for a way to sense

The world without tools

Or avatars.  There’s no sadness

When souls fall, because we know

That’s how a soul fastens

Onto a world and how it goes

Back to heaven.  So, no surprise

That the soul I saw in you

Was my soul once: In my eyes

You saw a veiled life as a new

Possibility.  It took a touch, a laugh

a strange prophetic silence

to destroy the false book

I had been reading, in one glance.

We share this soul like the wind

Shares the earth: it breathes love

And moves us, until we find

Each other in it and can no longer move.




It is the first evening in Ramadan

And one muezzin has outlasted the others.

He has a sweet voice filled with God: I wait

For him to become the only muezzin, the

Final singer. Because his voice is so sweet,

Like the dates and honey children will

Eat later, deep in the evening, by moonlight.


Long ago,in Anatolia, Christians got drunk on

The Sun; they made Jesus the sun the son of

God and ruler of the world. They worshiped him

As scorching heat and the power of salvation,

Who would come again as judge and burn the earth

God had created in a week of days.

They pounded grapes

And drank the hot red juice and called it his blood.


But in the desert God is not like that:

God is a palm, shade from the sun.

He is the water the Ethiopian girl offers you by

A dry roadside, the ripened mango you

Have all over your hands and can still smell

An hour after you devoured it, like a jackal.

He is the cool light of the moon in a black sky

when the sun Has disappeared,

the sun we mock with our fasting and thirst

in the moon’s good time..


We know the sun will not kill us,

that weakness will strengthen us.

That in the light of the moon we will eat

The sounds of our salvation and rise

As children until the last day, the last call

to hear the story sung again

By the sweet voice of the caller.

Villanelle: The Book in General

God was the source and center of this love.

You were the wish he wished in Babylon

I was the soul he lost within the grove.


Some say that Huwa drove the man to move

Beyond the garden walls.  Some say that none

Thought God the source and center of this love.


And once cast out they found an obscure trove

Stock full of seeds. They sowed them one by one,

The souls that he had lost within the grove.


But it was beastly work, and though they strove

To finish it, the job was never done,

He was no more the center of their love.


They built a temple, built it high above

The ancient city wall where priests could shun

The souls that had been lost within the grove.


They made two silver gates in memory of

The garden God had planted neath the sun

When he was yet the center of their love,

Before the souls were lost within the grove.