The Autobiography of Khwaja Mustasim
I stood for twenty years a chess piece in Córdoba, the black rook.
I was a parrot fed melon seeds by the eleventh caliph.
I sparked to life in a Damascus forge, no bigger than my own pupil.
I was the mosquito whose malarial kiss conquered Alexander.
I bound books in Bukhara, burned them in Balkh.
In my four hundred and sixteenth year I came to Qom.
I tasted Paradise early as an ant in the sugar bin of Mehmet Pasha’s chief
I was a Hindu slave stonemason who built the Blue Mosque without
I rode as a louse under Burton’s turban when he sneaked into Mecca.
I butchered halal in Jalalabad.
I had been a vulture just ten years when I looked down and saw Karbala set
for me like a table.
I walked that lush Hafiz home and held his head while he puked.
I was one of those four palm trees smart-bomb-shaken behind the reporter’s
I threw out the English-language newspaper that went on to hide the
The nails in which were taken from my brother’s coffin.
My sister’s widowing sighed sand in a thousand Kalashnikovs.
I buzzed by a tube light, and three intelligence officers, magazines rolled,
hunted me in vain.
Here I am at last, born in a city whose name, on General Elphinstone’s 1842
map, was misspelt “Heart.”
A mullah for a mauled age, a Muslim whose memory goes back farther than
the Balfour Declaration.
You may remember me as the grandfather who guided the gaze of a six-
year-old Omar Khayyám to the constellations.
Also maybe as the inmate of a Cairo jail who took the top bunk and shouted
down at Sayyid Qutb to please please please shut up.