Yesterday my dear friend, mentor and publisher passed away after several years of living with cancer, and a lifetime of prolific writing.
Coming of age in Beatnik California, among contemporaries such as Allen Ginsberg and Laurence Ferlinghetti, he certainly didn’t write for critics or to be nominated any country’s Poet Laureate; rather his life’s mission was, as far as I can tell, to distill the medicinal quintessence of the Middle Eastern/North African spiritual path he had come to in his native tongue, always in the spirit of the utmost personal honesty.
Writing mostly (entirely, even) in the middle of the night, his poems were full of his characteristic whimsy and gravity, dazzling and at times dizzying changes of perspective from the gnat’s to the nova’s, and throughout them a rumination on life and its purpose and its end while, perhaps, peeling potatoes or watching geese fly over a Dutch barn. Here are a few poems on the subject of death I came across today from one of his 50+ works, The Fireater’s Lunchbreak:
DEATH IS COMING
Death is coming
and we’re going to have a
though it be winter
I’m going to wear my hat
The wheels of earth are
revolving with a grinding sound
I can make out death’s face
in the mist
How can I believe it
with light all around?
Not even a little door
is needed that’s how fully
dimensional I feel and
green shoots growing in space
everywhere at once
in the winter chill
ONE WHITE HAIR
Death is a white hair that lands on our
lapel that can’t be returned to our head
Once we’re cut off from our source
how can we find our way again?
Unperturbed by events that showed us
death’s horrid doorways
the white hair that lands on our lapel
lies silent and still
Once we move off from our starting place
we’re sure to arrive where we’ve never been before
Only God can catch us with sure hands
and bathe us in sudsy waters
The eyes’ windows shut down at death
and His windows open
The heart’s windows are never closed
here or there
One hair alone is enough to show us –
Take heed of that falling hair!
LIKE THIS DEATH!
Death you funny old fogy
Death you amorous adolescent
ivy in your hair
Death you ring around the bathtub
Death you perfect slick icicle
Death you pork rind on sizzling bun
Death you bus out of control in the Andes
Death you pop-goes-the-weasel
Death you swansong in the full moonlight
Death you full swoon on an Algiers balcony
Death you sneering policeman caught red handed
Death you slip through a noose
Death you slipknot in a noose
Death you moose looking for breakfast
Death you ripe berry ready to be plucked
Tunnel out the living body into a new body
this time with no earth in it
Under the earth Death
Under the eye of the clock Death
Under God’s watchful Eye Death
in His breath Death His inbreath Death
and His outbreath Death
We are right there at the punch line
we’ve made the ball of light in the air
with our hands and
set it rolling
We are merrily along
hoping for the best death
Owl eye skunk drunk Death
punch drunk puckered over with the Kiss of Death
His influence for meek, toe-deep writers like me was to show that in poetry anything is possible. A paperclip could be the metaphor for union with the Divine, or it could be used to pick the lock to another realm in which cups of coffee sang songs and a snore told fathomless secrets. Or it could just be a paperclip, and isn’t that just the best thing for it to be?
But far from forcing the frontiers of his imagination, he would wait at the limits of it patiently, watching for something to stride out of the Unseen like a snatch of a waking dream, or for the beginning of a story to start telling itself like an old friend recounting an adventure, and one line would lead to another like a silk scarf being pulling from a magician’s hat, until the poem had emerged in full and could wander off on its own, shaking its haunches in the sunlight.
Though his passing is sad, his memory is one of zany humour and enlightening frankness, which is a pretty wonderful legacy to have bequeathed. His website gives an overview of all of his books, with links to purchase them, and it is hoped that there will soon be an anthology for newcomers to his work who don’t know where to start. You can also find an obituary of Daniel ‘Abdal-Hayy Moore here, written by my dad who had been a friend and fellow traveller on the Sufi path for over forty years.
Bon voyage, ‘Abdal-Hayy, to the other world your soul always belonged in. And apologies for all this soppy stuff, you sweet old bologna loaf.