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Ajal


ISSUE:  Fall 2008

The appointed time of death that Muslims
believe God has determined for every individual;
it cannot be delayed or hastened.

There are ninety-nine special names for God,
my son, and not so long ago, I held you,
newly born, under the light of a crescent moon,
and gave you the name which means servant
of God, and I did not speak of war,
though tanks rolled in a mechanical thunder
of iron, and helicopters fired missiles
over the rooftops of our city—I whispered
the call to prayer in your right ear,
the summons to prayer in your left.

It should not be like this. Abd Allah,
many, many years from now, your own children
should wash your body three times
after your death. They should seal your mouth
with cotton, reciting prayers in a wash
of light and grieving, a perfume of lemons
and jasmine on your skin.

It should not be like this, Abd Allah.
I wanted you to see the Ctesiphon Arch,
the Tower of Samarra, the Ziggurat in Ur.
I wanted to teach you the history
of our family, to see where you might take it.
I wanted to show you the stars of Babylon,
to teach what was once taught to me.

I cannot undo what the shrapnel has done.
And so I climb down into this crumbling earth
to turn your face toward Mecca, as it must be,
and to whisper to you one last time, my son.
Remember the old words I have taught you,
Abd Allah. And go with your mother now,
who lies buried here beside you—
she will know the way.

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