Portrait of an Orientalist
by David Solway (May 2016)
I perfume my beard with civet and rosewater,
the room is fragrant with aloes-wood burning in a censer,
I drink khamr, made of dates and spiced with quinces and Syrian apples,
at least four rotls at a time,
those tiny slices in my silver dish are fish tongues
(at a cost of one thousand dirhams!),
I wear a lounging-robe edged with Chinese silk
and my person is fumigated with frankincense,
Aristotle’s Categories and Porphyry’s Isagoge repose beside me
on a table inlaid with ebony and tortoise-shell
as I sprawl on my diwan amidst gold-brocaded cushions,
my pearl-tipped writing implements perched on a teakwood lectern
like falcons awaiting my command,
the maidens who dance for me are like the bamboo among plants in stature,
their cheeks white with fard
with a mole like a drop of ambergris upon a plate of alabaster,
bestowing glimpses of the Fertile Crescent to tease my sense of geography,
and breasts like ripe pomegranates, nipples dyed with henna,
I chew my food slowly, laugh but little, do not lick my fingers,
and avoid garlic and onions as unbefitting a polished speaker,
I am attended by a retinue of Jews and Christians
and by young men slender and muscled to serve a sudden whim—
these are my perquisites
for I am a member of the learned sodality, a gentleman of intellect,
but with no strict standards of veracity
(which would be contrary to my profession),
whether in the court of al-Rashid or al-Mamun
in Abbasid splendour of high accomplishment,
or today, in Cairo and Riyadh
or any center of seminarian repute.
David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist. His most recent volume of poetry, Installations, appeared in fall 2015 from Signal Editions. A partly autobiographical prose manifesto, Reflections on Music, Poetry & Politics, was released by Shomron Press in spring 2016. A CD of his original songs, Blood Guitar and Other Tales, appeared last summer. Solway’s current projects include work on a second CD with his pianist wife Janice and writing for the major American political sites such as PJ Media, FrontPage Magazine, American Thinker and WorldNetDaily.
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