I wander the sands, smeared crimson o’er gold
The blood of my house runs red as the dusk
The children are crying, their throats parched earth
Children of this earth, begging for rain
Just to moisten the cracks, as their words crack to death
I beg for them; I, Hussain, Allah’s own slave
The son of Ali of the pronged scimitar
And Fatima, daughter of Rasoolallah
My grandfather taught me upon his blessed knee
And played in the garden with my brother and I
He said we were youths fit for Jannah’s garden
Bound to play by the rivers of white milk, dark wine
Knowledge and Wisdom, two streams from the Throne
We are drowning, we martyrs, in sorrow full drunk
The river of that wine has rushed over my house this day
The color of the sinking sun has tinged our clothes this day
Oh, Hasan, my brother, rest easy till the day of resurrection!
Praise be you were spared the sun’s descent this eve!
I came to this place as was destined for me
Before my mother’s womb, this place was my tomb
For my knee would not bend to a tyrant’s command
Now I bow to my fate, but my manhood revolts
The sight of my household I’ve no hope to save
They say a man who cannot guard his women is no man
They say one whose tribe is scattered is himself scattered to the wind
But these few gathered under my name are loyal to their word
These few beneath the cloak of my authority are patient in their pain
And like my father’s slaves, they will not go though they are freed
They will face the sun’s death, keep vigil through the night
Our swords will taste blood ere the rust of ruin
Our swords will sing before the silence falls
Those dearest to me beg to die advancing
Young men, my kindred, my tribe
I deny; they insist; I cannot hold them back
But my son I permit upon first request
For it is he I would hold back the strongest
And my selfish longings must be squelched
I will not withhold this gift of all gifts
My heir with the name of my sire Ali
And the face of the Prophet, shining grace
He is as they were when youth on them smiled
High spirits, strong arm, and a heart for Allah
Must he return on this day unto Him?
Yes, yes, this day, I will pull forth the spear
And mourn o’er his body asleep in the sands
I bade him kiss his mother and his aunt before he left
Now neither of them speak since his voice grew still
O father, who stormed the gates of the enemy,
Praise the Almighty you never had need to bury a son!
It is a harder gate to break than any that were broken
O Ali Akbar, they will sing of your virtues and your sword
They will sing of your youth and your prowess
They will sing of how many you slew before you too were slain
But they may never bring you back to us
Not until the sands cease to blow and the sky rips apart
Not until the dead are brought to bliss or condemnation
No comfort may we take but in the will of Allah
As your last cry is carried away by relentless wind
My kinsman can watch the children no more
The future, burning, in front of us, like dying bulbs
Death at the root of ourselves, cut off from life, slowly, slowly…
This is what the enemy craves
Abbas, half-brother of mine, what makes you so strong?
Is it my children you love so dear, begging for drink?
It is I who should soothe their tongues, not you!
Yet he will mount and ride against the wind’s return
He will ride hard, for death or the brook
They will kill him, it is destined, yet he must go
He must die with his honor, for the least of us
No water he drinks, only fills the goatskin
And riding back, dark arrows pierce the sky
Pierce his arms, his chest, his eye
Blacken the sun with mortal wounds
The water will mingle with his gushing blood
As they hack him limb from limb for the carrion’s feast
I rush to him, but he forbids my aid
Armless, breathless, he will die alone
And my grief makes him half of me no longer
But the whole of me, as if my spine were snapped
And he calls me “brother” as his eyes empty
He will not reach camp with empty hands
Nor be tortured by pleas of orphans
But I am not to be spared, not yet
My son in the cradle is too weak to cry
Youngest of my body, about to die
His mother’s milk has dried in her breasts
And her eyes have drained of feeling, a dimming glass
She is shattered into silence, as those strewn upon the sand
I take my infant son, my arms his cradle,
And hold him aloft to the army against us
My enemies – but surely men have hearts?
Surely they’ve felt a baby’s grip?
Small-fingered innocence in helpless hands
Warrior hands, these, once strong, now weak
For they cannot quench my child’s thirst!
So I beg – Hussain, Allah’s own slave
Son of Ali, warrior and sage
And of Fatima, Lady of Paradise
I beg for water on the steps of the sand
My father taught me men are equals
Be it in faith, or in humanity
I look for human eyes now but dread I stare at beasts!
The sky rips open with a hunting shaft
Fit for beasts, not an infant’s neck
Or one weak warrior hand
I cry out – blood, blood, blood!
I cast it to the sun-streaked sky
Crimson marries crimson
And cries out for vengeance from the ground
I smear it on my face as testament
Is this what Ibrahim felt when asked to sacrifice his son?
I have lost my Ismael, once, twice –
All in one day!
So I wander the sands, smeared crimson o’er gold
The blood of my house runs red as the dusk
How shall I tell the mother of her child?
How shall I face her with blood on my face?
Oh, Allah, who makes us patient in adversity,
Make me now endure the test!
To be your slave is my crown
To drink your wine will slake my thirst
And I will put my forehead to the ground
Even as the sun smears sunset scarlet
And I ride to face my end
Come, Sakina, embrace your father!
You must learn to sleep without my voice
Without the rhythm of my tales to lull you
Tales of your grandsire, and your great-grandsire,
Victories that sang as our banners snapped in the breeze
Warriors unmatched, blessed by Allah’s favor
Yet here I am, in the desert of my defeat
Are my ancestors watching these moments melting
Like the drops of sweat upon my brow?
I look around, and there is none left to help me
No, I must unsheathe my sword alone
So my daughter may bear final witness
She was not created from a coward’s seed
I will weep for her lost innocence
Her parched tongue, her shocked visage
I will weep that I cannot save her, for all my name’s glory
That her only question is how long she must wait to join me
Sister, come and kiss your brother!
We shared a womb, O Zeinab, and now we share our fate!
We are of Fatima and Karbala born
Kiss me, where our mother told you:
On the forehead, on the throat
Here the mortal strikes will fall
Here her dream will find its meaning
Here the final cup I’ll drink
And when her spirit haunts this place
Shedding tears of wrath upon red sand
Guide her through the path of the slain
So she may bless my head upon the spear
And let her wailing weave the nasheeds
Of the Month of Muharram