Dancing shaman with a kingfisher's head.
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The Ghazal Page

December Issue

All text and design © 2007, by Bill Batcher, Steffen Horstmann, Cathryn Shea, Conrad Geller, and Gene Doty.

Kin to Dust

Steffen Horstmann

I brood on knowledge I am kin to dust,
Destined to reside within the dust.

A mere whim of the migrant winds —
The dead dervish in a coffin of dust.

Clocks stopped ticking in an abandoned house.
In silence its floors grew a skin of dust.

The palaces have fallen through their floors.
Remnants of kingdoms once sovereign, in dust.

I woke remembering seeds budding into stars . . .
My eyes held dreams in a ruin of dust.

Winds are still wrestling in the caves,
Where mystics conjured a Djinn from dust.

Moments of stillness before suns combust —
The dispersing light becomes thin as dust.

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Bill Batcher

Today I went to the baker to buy bread.
"Doughnuts? Cookies? A cake? A pie?" "Bread."

A loaf perhaps of pumpernickle or
maybe real Jewish rye bread.

Cheese. Lamb. Honey. Pomegranate.
Only one thing will satisfy: bread.

But Christ in hunger told the tempter, Lo,
man cannot live alone by bread.

Beware the Pharisees. Yet without
some yeast you will not have high bread.

He blessed it and gave to his disciples.
"Drink my wine, my friends, and eat my bread."

Baghdad, Queen of Cities, listen
to the hungry orphans cry, "Bread."

No mother, when her own children ask,
can look at them and deny bread.

Now Bill says: Sit and read my poem and eat,
before we have to say "Goodbye," bread.

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The Truth about Silk Wraps

Cathryn Shea

I shall not reveal ragged cuticles. I'll eat bread
in the sun, sip warm root beer and rest my head.

Ming Dynasty royals loved crimson-shellacked
toes, under comforters their fingers glowed.

Have a seat, Sweetie, we'll soak your feet
in dishwashing suds. You'll love it, she said.

Before battle Roman generals did their nails
to match their lips, which became a plebeian fad.

Modern nail polish evolved from car paint,
in endless shades, bonds strongly to silk thread.

Babylonian priests and their gold-plated toenails,
their wives' fingernails hennaed blood red.

Fresh roads snake the edges of the Taklimakan,
cut along the Tigris through Baghdad.

Do you think that because I must be alone
I love you less? If only you weren't sad.

There are newly revealed oil lakes under the sand,
this damned grit makes my manicure go bad.


Jupiter's lunar eclipse, Magi of Babylon enhance
their eyes with soot, trek to Bethlehem on this route.

A crescent gets glued near the quick of your nail bed
readied to receive enamel, perfect shape and fit.

A Taoist monk found the store of manuscripts,
Sir Aurel Stein heard rumors of this, his kismet.

Vision of a thousand monks that burn, blessedly remote,
candles. A thousand Buddhas that emit beams of light.

The sacking of Dunhuang Grottoes persists,
British Museum gets twenty-nine packing crates.

The Church of Cologne holds the bones of the Magi
which Saint Helena found in a shroud

dyed purple from snail milk, woven of silk strands,
over two thousand miles wrapped in gold thread.

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No More Teeth Like Pearls

Cathryn Shea

I'm having a hard time with a lead singer's teeth, straight and neon-like teeth
distracting me. What's the angst he's emoting? What's he saying with his teeth?

The Monkeys were more tragic, Milli Vanilli more authentic. I could be jealous
of his whiter than sheets-washed-in-Clorox, reflecting-in-the-sun-metal teeth,

his blinding halogen headlights. Forget "pearly." Pearly is out, too subdued,
too creamy to limn these rows of incisors. This obsession with white teeth,

this "whitest" attesting to greed like Wallis Simpson's "A woman can't be too rich
or too thin." Dukes and duchesses gargled with piss to bleach their teeth

with uric acid. That's how subservient they were to smiles. Don't go blaming gays.
Yes, they've pushed the hygienic envelope, they love veneers & whitened teeth;

it's royalty that started this whole whiter-than-white movement. Aping kings
and queens the nouveau riche had barber-surgeons file down their teeth

then dab them with corrosive nitric which destroyed the enamel, the dentin
exposed, leading to decay! No more society appearances, no more pearly teeth.

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The Past

Steffen Horstmann

From the future Time cannot segregate the past,
It will become burdened with the weight of the past.

It is the mind's cargo, carried forward
Nightly in sleep, the freight of the past.

Decades dissolved & you beckoned me
To that garden with a rusty gate, the past.

Thoughts linger & vanish — & memories,
Like coins, drop through the grate of the past.

The train you never boarded now arrives,
In the echoing station where I wait in the past.

Its pages no regime can erase.
Archives no deed can vacate, the past.

I dreamt myself in The Warehouse of the Universe,
& with a crowbar pried open an old crate, the past.

You were the stranger longing for God,
Destitute & searching for your fate in the past.

It exists in the mind's vast spaces
As a city whose lights pulsate, the past.

It is the unfathomable depths from where
I hear your voice emanate, the past.

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Steffen Horstmann

Searchlights chase echoes of footfalls at night.
Shadows of sentries sliding the walls at night.

Leaves become tongues speaking with the wind's voice.
The dead return in their black shawls at night.

The shell of my ear houses voices
That escape to echo in halls at night.

Star, white asterisk on the sky's black page . . .
Into the sea's mirror it falls tonight.

We would talk until dawn or just listen
To the sound of waterfalls at night.

A drop of rain seeks the ocean's refuge —
Exiled by the sky from which it falls tonight.

The water's lip is pressed to the sand's skin . . .
My dream when a soft rain falls at night.

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Conrad Geller

I could never bear to see her dancing.
The very air exhales while she is dancing.

Raindrops wander down a darkened window.
No mind, no meaning, still, it looks like dancing.

Weeping awake is not the same as dreaming.
A snowflake's swirl is not the same as dancing.

Tonight the liquid moonlight eddies, flows.
Somewhere, I imagine, she is dancing.

Conrad waits. What else is there to do?
Love is grace, and grace is only dancing.

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Editor's Comments

Dust and bread are basic parameters of our lives, both literally and metaphorically. Steffen Horstmann's ghazal ties the dust to which we're kin to stars, silence, and wind. Bill Batcher's bread is the whole symbolic loaf, intricated with Jewish and Christian imagery and tradition.

Which brings us to Baghdad, Babylon, and points further along the Silk Road. Baghdad should resonate for each of us, regardless of our political or religious commitments. A name that goes back, via Uruk, as far as written story goes, to the epic of Gilgamesh the king. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures inveigh against Babylon; Muslim history and tradition celebrate her. In this poem, Baghdad rhymes (as image) with Jupiter, eclipses, the moon, a woman's (or general's!) painted fingernails. Silk songs wrap us in our dreams of what might be or might have been.

Note, by the way, that this ghazal of Cathy's uses a qafiya of consonant repetition, the Arabic microrhyme that David Jalajel writes about. While laid out like a Persian ghazal, "The Truth about Silk Wraps" rhymes in the Arabic manner.

Dust, bread, silk, . . . pearls. What statement do our teeth make? One of us grins widely, teeth on proud display; another speaks with lips drawn over teeth to conceal them. Are your teeth white enough? Too white? Would you have them whiter? Reflect on this ghazal before you answer!

The past, the night, and a dancing woman. "The Past" is about an abstract a noun as you get. Yet Steffen's ghazal makes it concrete in images such as "that garden with a rusty gate," "an old crate" "pried open" "with a crowbar." How abstract is night? Isn't the experience of night concrete? Isn't the definition of night also concrete? Yet night is the house of major mysteries for us diurnal bipeds. A familiar place by day becomes strange at night, color drained, shadows heightened, with a kind of underglow that Steffen catches with phrases such as "the sound of waterfalls at night" or the dead "in their black shawls at night."

This afternoon in our university center, I watched two young women dance as part of an international celebration. In their dancing, their moves mirrored each other. Until the end, they were a few feet apart. As it happens, I know both of them but didn't recognize them as they danced. Yeats spoke of an awareness in which one cannot tell the "dancer from the dance." (The last line of "Among School Children" is "How can we know the dancer from the dance?")

What looks like dancing isn't (always) dancing — the raindrops, the snowflake, the moonlight — to say these dance is to personify them, to layer them with our dreams, our desires. Yet, "What else is there to do? / Love is grace, and grace is only dancing."

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