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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