the dust of the king

21 ramadhan 1436 | najaf, iraq

it is shortly after Fajr prayers, the early morning of the day you were killed.

i am standing, leaning against blue tiles in an archway of your harram, head resting against cool marble, tears falling like drops of burning oil upon my skin.

glancing across the courtyard, it is impossible to see the crimson tide of carpets beneath the sea of lovers dressed in black – one person inseparable from the other as they move in unison, the steady ripple of inky waves in the blackness of a desert night.

‘haydar… haydar…’

the rhythm of hands echoes to the words of an Arab lamentation. like the steady beat of drums, each hand falls upon the chest – like the strike of a blade, piercing through the heart.

the gaze is hungry, venturing past visions of hands and tears to a doorway where it catches a glimmer, the twinkle of a golden encasing, the whisper of a great spirit’s grave.

from the minarets, a reciter cries in Arabic: words of tragedy. wails of indescribable grief. relating a story: how, centuries ago on a morning much like this one, a man called the people in the Masjid of Kufa for prayer. a man, whose character was unmatched by any in honesty, integrity, morality, dignity. the courage of a fearsome warrior, challenging oppressors, a lion by day; the humility of a simple man, delivering food to the needy, the faceless protector of orphans in the dead of the night.

how, after lying in wait the long night hours for this moment, there rose behind him a wolf leering with yellow teeth; a coward, unsheathing his sword while his opponent’s back was turned…

and how an assassin struck, an earth-shattering blow.

how the screams of God’s angels tore through the night – wa museebata! in Kufa has been struck Ali al-Murtadha!

and now – in the same nights, in the same land, around me, those screams. the wailing of daughters; the broken backs of sons.

the fury of a sudden breeze, whipping through the air, beating against the seas of black, declaring to the world: if you did not know then, then know now! know, tonight, this name! know in this morning, who it is who has won! the refuge of widows, the hope of the orphans, the brother of the Prophet – if you did not know, then know now, this name! know in this night: Ali!

the grief is so unbearable i reach out, gripping the wall for support. keeling over, chest tight with sorrow, i glance up once more to your grave, and your fragrance wafts toward me. just one scent, and your separation falls on me heavy, a mountain’s weight… and i can’t breathe.

my gaze is drawn to that palace of crystal where your body in this moment lays, and i don’t know how i can bear it how i can take it how i can not die from this grief – mawla, without you how can i breathe…

the sudden weight of a hand on my head, as a figure in black pushes down, and i look up to meet her eyes. i look around me at the many bent over weeping, an imprint of a hand left on each of their heads – as a woman dips her fingers into the wet mud of Najaf’s dust and leaves on every head a mark, a mark of the lovers of Ali, the indelible mark i will carry with me to judgement day,

when before our eyes you’ll walk forth, and a voice will cry out, lower your head in respect; lowered to the sweet dust of najaf, lowered to the dust of the king…

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