Around Me Grew a Secret

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On a bus stop bench today
opposite Crystal Palace park
a sphere of silver appeared
warped the passing buses
metal melted ads peeled off
bystanders blasted eyebrows singed
the trees flashed sauna-hot
and the curve of grey and drizzle lifted
I hid my laughter that
nobody seemed to notice while
the orb of clutter-thoughts
that dangle round my head
like strips of ripped skirt tied to branches
vanished. Oh! How they’d obscured the view!
Now it is clear those shabby tokens,
gifts given in hope of something else,
could never reach the Giver.
He does not do cupboard love, a
worship born of wanting –
‘Take this time of mine but
give me what I wish for,
with all due respect. No, not that one –
I said I wanted it in red!’
But on the bus stop bench
around me grew a secret:
This is always here
while we in earth robes walk
as though we’re mountains.
This is always here.
Once you’ve been shown it
you cannot unknow it.
This is always here.

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Here

Every place I’ve ever prayed

– four wall frames for this

absorbing act of art

marking the spot where

the Beautiful appears

in hearts turned clear as 

glass with love –

are, if I conjure them 

in qiyam, visible again

overlaid: same qibla,

same calm.

 

The world aligns

these scattered squares

landscape provided by

the odd park, forest floor

or mountain slope

that ever served

as mosque

while depth is added by those 

few times overall I prayed jama’

one stroke of paint in ruku’, a

Van Gogh of backs and heads.

 

This is just the same 

place, call it here or there.

Even though the compass

needle’s moved

from Spain to India

Turkey, London

Washington, Mombasa

my feet haven’t changed;

my head still weighs the same.

 

So is there, in the same way

there is only now and no past 

left, no future yet to be

no here, either?

No North or South

or East or West

no close to home

or far-flung nation

to judge one to be

God’s homeland

visas rubber-stamped by

angels, everywhere else

a plane ride’s reach

from the Real?

 

The scenery’s been changed

but this stage has

gone nowhere.

So many earths have crept 

beneath my soles and yet 

the solid rock beneath my brow

is deep as ever, the

plunging in always the timeless

spaceless swim it ever was

wherever it has been.

 

With every rak’ah

the archived frames return

mirrored around

reflecting out

while I sit here

reflecting in.

Here

Every place I’ve ever prayed

– four wall frames for this

absorbing act of art

marking the spot where

the Beautiful appears

in hearts turned clear as 

glass with love –

are, if I conjure them 

in qiyam, visible again

overlaid: same qibla,

same calm.

 

The world aligns

these scattered squares

landscape provided by

the odd park, forest floor

or mountain slope

that ever served

as mosque

while depth is added by those 

few times overall I prayed jama’

one stroke of paint in ruku’, a

Van Gogh of backs and heads.

 

This is just the same 

place, call it here or there.

Even though the compass

needle’s moved

from Spain to India

Turkey, London

Washington, Mombasa

my feet haven’t changed;

my head still weighs the same.

 

So is there, in the same way

there is only now and no past 

left, no future yet to be

no here, either?

No North or South

or East or West

no close to home

or far-flung nation

to judge one to be

God’s homeland

visas rubber-stamped by

angels, everywhere else

a plane ride’s reach

from the Real?

 

The scenery’s been changed

but this stage has

gone nowhere.

So many earths have crept 

beneath my soles and yet 

the solid rock beneath my brow

is deep as ever, the

plunging in always the timeless

spaceless swim it ever was

wherever it has been.

 

With every rak’ah

the archived frames return

mirrored around

reflecting out

while I sit here

reflecting in.

Here

Every place I’ve ever prayed

– four wall frames for this

absorbing act of art

marking the spot where

the Beautiful appears

in hearts turned clear as 

glass with love –

are, if I conjure them 

in qiyam, visible again

overlaid: same qibla,

same calm.

 

The world aligns

these scattered squares

landscape provided by

the odd park, forest floor

or mountain slope

that ever served

as mosque

while depth is added by those 

few times overall I prayed jama’

one stroke of paint in ruku’, a

Van Gogh of backs and heads.

 

This is just the same 

place, call it here or there.

Even though the compass

needle’s moved

from Spain to India

Turkey, London

Washington, Mombasa

my feet haven’t changed;

my head still weighs the same.

 

So is there, in the same way

there is only now and no past 

left, no future yet to be

no here, either?

No North or South

or East or West

no close to home

or far-flung nation

to judge one to be

God’s homeland

visas rubber-stamped by

angels, everywhere else

a plane ride’s reach

from the Real?

 

The scenery’s been changed

but this stage has

gone nowhere.

So many earths have crept 

beneath my soles and yet 

the solid rock beneath my brow

is deep as ever, the

plunging in always the timeless

spaceless swim it ever was

wherever it has been.

 

With every rak’ah

the archived frames return

mirrored around

reflecting out

while I sit here

reflecting in.

The Great If Only

Tonight is full moon, the last before Ramadan; it is known as the night on which a person’s decree for the coming year is written, when one’s destiny is laid out, in that wonderfully impermanent way; there is, after all, always next year. Everything is apt to change.

Tonight is also the night I abandoned my feeble attempts at enforcing a sort of bedtime dictatorship, whereby, at the ages of 3 and 1, my children ‘should’ be capable of tucking themselves in, saying nighty-night, and dozing off even when it is still daylight outside and everyone else in Spain is only just slinking out from under a cool rock and coming to life again.

Thankfully this period of Victorian nannyesque insanity only lasted a few days, or rather, a few long, horrible evenings racked with hysterical screams (Cavebabe) and pitiful whimpers (Caveboy). It hit me that, with their father away, and a great many complicated adult emotions lurking under the playdough exterior of family life, there was ultimately nothing more awful in this world than a heartbroken kid. Anything that eases that heartache is worth a try, even if it does give me bruises on the shoulder (how??) or broken nights (argh) or long evenings curled up with my beloveds telling stories in bed (hold on, is this the same sentence?)

There was one piece of advice which had stuck in my head from recently reading Faber and Mazlish’s How to Talk So Kids Listen and Listen So Kids Talk: acknowledging a howling child’s fury/sadness/jealousy will help them deal with it, but if it’s still causing turbulence, grant them their wish in fantasy. Tell them you wish you could fix that biscuit with edible glue and make it complete again, and then go and buy a huge box full of biscuits and shower them over their head until they could never imagine a broken biscuit again.

It might sound dubious, but this approach strangely seems to work. Perhaps it’s because the tangible world for a child is so quick to merge with an imagined one, so that merely thinking about all the amazing things they could do is just as good as actually doing them – perhaps even better (no car trips, disappointments, broken bones).

So, tuning into a screamingly obvious vibe from my son, I asked him if he wished we could send Rosa away for a bit, have a day just for ourselves, and of course he said yes. What would we do on this day? I began to have a wild fantasy about taking him out to a restaurant and the cinema, which was admittedly more my own fantasy than his, but his ideas were all so sweetly prosaic: dig in the sandpit, play with his pulley and bucket, buy a wheelbarrow.

Just wishing we had a day to do all those things together, an acute tension broke between us, and we were back within our old bond, Rosa Nour asleep at last on the other side of the bed, out of his sight. The tenderness invoked, the devoutness with which we codesigned our imaginary day together, made it feel quite prayer-like, and I was reminded of the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (s.) that even imagining how one might distribute charity is rewarded with the same blessings as actually giving that charity.

He fell asleep almost immediately, mumbling something about not taking apples to the beach, and I went to hang out my laundry under a beaming great moon, and took stock of my own wishes and prayers, or cynical forgetfulness of them. It seems I have forgotten how to wish for something in that young, fervent way, so strongly that there can be no doubt that something will come of it.

Tonight was also the first night that my son twigged what it meant to pray for someone, to wish them well from afar in the belief that somehow it had a effect greater than simply making us feel better. I wonder, then, if praying is something that comes easily to children. Even more, it make us children again. It evokes that plasticity by which anything can be brought out from a passionate daydream into reality.

The Great If Only is, in truth, a Glorious Could Be.