Hussain at Karbala

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

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