The Execution Of Hallaj

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Hallaj, a Sufi, was executed in 922 AD for making heretical statements such as ‘I am the truth’ — and refusing to recant. He stated also that the pilgrimage to Mecca could be performed anywhere with suitable dedication and preparation. Because he emphasised the importance of Christ, as a Sufi teacher he was accused by fanatics of being a secret Christian.

Come. He is true to his provocations,
death comes like sanity
to holy fools. He has kissed through
blue fires of breath, stroked the
flanks of destiny: this beast men
unknowingly assembled
in the Mecca of their hearts.

Last ironic exercise of his limbs
through bazaars. Old men, huddled,
chopped ends of straw beneath the cloth,
traders jabbering, brass panniers filled
with flour, money-lenders with rickety scales,
their shroffing hands on the certain
gold of the hour. Women who drape
purdah on the contours of suffering,
dun as the dust. Hallaj stills their eyes.

He enters his kingdom of chains,
the lidless bowl of the courtyard
the crowd stains. They grope at a sweet
revulsion, martyrdom or slow murder.
Mullahs fat with gloating, who squeeze
the Prophet’s words till acid dribbles
bibulous on the chin of righteousness.
Stand close to see the throat block
or the eye burst (but nervous that blood
leap like a red truth onto skin or cloth).
Light lies along the walls, like a snake.

Suddenly the insolent flesh. Hallaj is grinning,
is drunk, his Christ-tongue torn, the kiss
of the knife through his lips.
The gasp and rhetoric of the sword.
Blade enters the sun at noon, air is filled
with steel flung down. The chained arm
is spraying, spangled, translucent
rosary beads held to the sky. Whirling,
Hallaj slips the brokerage of time
in a gold loving, out-breathing into breath;
he rumples the air’s guilt like a sheet
of ecstasy, like endless, billowing silk.

Sight folds on the body, like a skin.
Some, perhaps, tasted
the question of death
as if bruised grapes. Some
said the eye winked from the severed
head. (Silence. Slight nudge
at the raw stirrup of hearing.)

Or when they gathered the parts,
one arm was missing. A cart-man
drops a load of bags in the street.
The dust sifts through the crowd.
By Allah, there is straw to weigh, donkeys
to be fed, how much wool for a sheaf of hay?

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