travelers in the night

I once met a man walking alone
Where the path in the desert bends
I asked him where he was headed—
He said, “To visit an old friend.”

Our ways seemed to cross so I asked
If I might join him by his side?
He gestured the way and so off we set
Two travelers in the night
As we walked we spoke of our songs
The melodies written throughout our lives
Miles passed in this way in dust under stars
Until he stopped – “I have arrived.”
I looked around but all I could see
Was desert, reaching out like sea
But the man planted his cane and said,
“This is where my friend will come to me.”
I thought – this man has lost his mind
With each second my doubt grew higher
I turned to leave, but saw him shiver
And thought, first I’ll help him build a fire
As I set the flame, I looked at his face
It was wizened old and gray
Before I had the chance to ask—
It was this story he started to say:
It was many moons and suns ago
When I was a much younger man
That traveling, I stopped at night
To make camp upon this land
It was not long after I’d slept
That I was awoken with a start
I heard the neighs of many horses
A scream that tore the world apart
I jumped and ran as fast as I could
Finding my way toward the sound
Not realizing that it was no longer night
And now, the sun burned upon the ground
I came upon a group of tents
Where stood a weeping girl
Upon seeing me, she stood up straight
And this righteous fire she unfurled:
“Who are you, why have you come?
Why do you seek out our camp?
Is it not enough to send back bodies,
Must you also on our honor stamp?”
Confused, I began to answer
But I saw in her eyes a river’s rage
Her clenched hands held the weight of grief
And a wisdom greater than her age
She stepped toward me and I stepped back
Afraid of the lioness who reared her head
If she wanted, she could command oceans
The skies trembled with her every step
“Was it not enough that with sunrise
The first snarling arrow you let fall?
Piercing the bodies of my uncles and brothers
Not heeding this honorable call:
“When a man stood on the plains to say
Underneath a torturous and blistering sun:
‘Where is the conscience that has left your skin?
Where is your belief in the Almighty One?
‘Why do you act as the unyielding sword
In the corrupt and cruel oppressor’s hand?
Would you sell your souls for a price so cheap
As gold and worldly land?
‘Save yourselves, it is not too late
To step back from the chasm’s roar;
You were not made to snarl like animals
But to, like angels, above heaven soar.’
“But though his words were Justice
And he held the banner of Truth up high
They lit the match of cruel desire’s flame
And made this, the day the roses died
“There was my sweet rose Ali Akbar –
When I was scared I would hold his hand
But now, an arrow pierces his heart
His body lays burning upon the sand
“And another rose, my dear Qasim
When he rode, he cried his father’s name
They heard the echo of the Prophet’s voice
And so, to silence his voice they came
“What of the roses Muslim and Zuhayr?
What of Habib, Muhammad, or Aun?
What of Hurr, the captain of enemy forces
Who chose death with Right, not life with Wrong?
“All of these roses they slaughtered
Each one facing hundreds alone in the fray
For refusing to bow their heads to injustice
When facing death, this chant they’d say:
“‘It is better to die on the soles of your feet
Than to live in dishonor on your knees
Better to be the lofty and strong mountain face
Than the wisp that blows, aimless in the breeze.’
“Such was the call of my uncle, Abbas
Who rode valiantly to the riverbank
He was to bring thirsty children back water
But they challenged him from every flank
“They struck him and from his horse he fell
Karbala wept, the flag-bearer fell down
I saw my father weep over the body of his brother
His body, arched and broken, upon the ground
“I screamed out this scream, ya Abbas!
As my father wept, My back has been broken
His wail carried with it God’s anger
His cry, enough to rip the dark skies open
“But even this grief was not enough
No amount of torture could they befall
That would shake the faith of this man of God
Even in death, he would stand tall.”
The young girl paused for behind her
A hand had come to rest upon her head
I followed it up to see to whom it belonged
And seeing, fell to my knees instead
Such radiance shone from his face
As to put to the brightest sun to shame
In his eyes there was such a calming grace
In his smile, the promise of coming rain
His arms reached down to greet me
As done when greeting an old friend
And with his embrace I was strengthened
Finding myself craving heaven’s scent
But all of a sudden, he faded from me
The scene changed before my eyes
I was standing now on the battlefield
Witness to horror under bloody skies
My master Hussain was falling to his knees
And the enemy was planning his demise
And as I stood witness, I understood what she meant:
That this was the day the roses died
Because here was my friend, this rose,
Falling upon harsh and unwelcome sands
And his blood was running rivers and rain
And petals were weeping across the land
There he was, under the shadow of swords
Yet his lips spoke only the name of the One
His final moments, such a display of worship
That no human or angel could have done
I cried out and screamed, stretching my hand,
Restless, “O Master, let me take your place!”
But when his eyes met mine, there was only calm
Gentle tides written upon his face
His eyes pierced through mine as if this to convey
“There is no pain when in His way you walk
They can take your body but your spirit is free –
Standing for truth means victory, even in loss
“When I said, ‘Is there anyone left to help me?’
It was not just a call to the desert sky
It was a battle call against all darkness
Not just for now, but for all time
“I say not farewell as I pass from this world
Not now, but a thousand years before your birth
But as you return, waking from this dream
Remember – do not forget the human being’s worth
“Remember this day if you ever feel weak
When a band of roses for Islam did die
But find strength in knowing this secret
That even in death, true roses remain alive
“Wake and return now to the time that is yours
Stand for the truth, don’t let the legacy end;
Do not fear the cost, for when in the fray you fall-
I will be there to bring you home, my friend.”
The old man’s voice breaks, and in me something moves
Like when to rivers, hardened rock gives way
I look to the horizon, hearing rolling thunder
And his voice slowly fades away . . .

I smell in the sky a sudden sweet scent
A warm wind against my face then sighs
And a thousand petals of roses appear
Falling gently from purple skies
I close my eyes and feel my spirit’s core move
Like when galaxies dance among the stars
I find renewed conviction for justice and hope
With this call, “Remember who you are.”
I hear the sound of laughter and I turn,
Wanting to learn more from the old man’s grace
But when I look, I find he has disappeared—
A single rose just rests in his place.
* * *
I am now seventy-five and walking alone
Where the path in the desert bends
I have lived out my years in struggle for truth
And it is with truth that my story ends
It found here in an old man’s story true love
Found the bravery of humans who transcend
It was here I found the indomitable power of soul
The strength of a spine that does not bend
It was here that I found the meaning of life
And every day after was in this meaning spent
Now I return to lay down well-worked bones
For that sleep whose dreams are without end
As I adjust my cane and walk towards the stars
A young girl’s path meets mine along the bend;
And when she stops to ask where I’m headed
I smile – “To visit an old friend.”

7 thoughts on “travelers in the night”

  1. […] ways as I learned more and more about Karbala. The following year during the nights of Muharram, she would tell a story more touching than I have the words to express. Sometimes, words fail – only tears can speak […]

  2. Husayn(as)’s poets are masters of the art.
    May Allah(swt) increase you in your talent and may you spread the message of the Master of the Martyrs(as)


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s