Khalid Khashan – Sacred Virginity
Khalid Khashan, in his poem “Adam’s Childhood”, which later became the title of his debut poetry collection, profoundly embodies man’s ordeal and specifies its very beginning. It starts as a small niche in Adam’s heart after having been pierced by a war bullet. It unfolds itself in form of emotional outbursts that reflect the poet’s in-depth experience. The poem is divided into stanzas, written in the free verse. Each stanza represents an image of Adam’s life. Integrated together, they form one grand image that materializes Adam’s furious downfall from heaven, self, and society, usurped of everything, mainly the bliss of childhood, of which he chews only haggard and mournful memories:
From a bullet hole
In the heart,
Bequeathed to me by war,
I set up my eyeball
And leave it
In the meadows of my soul,
O how splendorous my soul is!
Childhood draped with rainbows
And kidded by butterflies.
While in his poem entitled “Familial Day”, which appeared in the Arab Daily of London, Khasan focuses only on one aspect of Adam’s ordeal: sacred virginity. In the preliminary stanza of the poem, he takes his reader by a surprise when he explicitly protests or-say-complains against the Holy Trinity for he discovers that it is devoid of any existence of woman though she was in the core of the story of creation as it came in (Genesis 2:23) “she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.”, that means she was taken from Adam’s rib to complete him and to be a spring for his bliss, that eliminated his loneliness:
I have found out that
the wife is outside the Holy Trinity
Alas for that!
As soon as one finishes reading the above stanza, an abrupt question will leap into his/her mind; what does the poet imply behind such a protest-like declaration? Does he denounce the Holy Trinity for underlying some sort of shortness, or say- defy its infallibility? All that may be possible regardless the correctness or incorrectness of his idea concerned with the Holy Trinity. But before delving into such an abyss, let’s lay some ground to base our reading on. Here, the poet presents what can be considered a grand picture: “woman’s absence and his sorrow for it”; as is reflected in the words “outside” and “Alas”. These two words certainly imply an indignation to the Holy Trinity for its exclusion of the woman of its vicinity.
It is very important to check up if this image is reinforced in the following stanzas with similar images or not. If so, the poem must be read as a protest and depreciation on the part of the poet against the Holy Trinity, and in that he holds a challenge to the Divinity, and if not, then, what does he want to communicate to the reader as considered an indispensible party of the process of meaning production?
Any careful reading will refute the first probability because we will see that the poet in the other stanzas of the poem, discovers the same state of absence of the woman hidden within the interweaved layers of the overwhelming love and nostalgia expressions. If so, why does he initiate his poem with such a complaining statement? What is his true intention? Is he trying to cheat the reader in one way or another to make him believe that the Holy Trinity is not infallible because it has no mention for the woman despite her being an essential element of the story of the creation?
Before answering these questions, let’s start with the second stanza and see if it conveys what affirms such questions or pushes them away. In this stanza, the poet addresses his beloved in a magically sensuous language that reflects his overflowing love through an audio-visual image that stimulates the reader’s senses of seeing and hearing to make him feel how deeply the speaker is infatuated with the woman he loves. But in the meantime, it also reflects that he is so angry at her long bitter absence, which is seemingly behind much of his suffering that he presses her to come and take her bitter absence and close the door behind it, that is as if he says to her: that’s enough of your agonizing love:
I have been knocking at
your heart’s door for ages,
Haven’t you heard?
my soul as it recites your beauty,
in my prayer,
and take all your bitter absence
and close the door behind it,
As it has been mentioned above, the poet, in this stanza, materially visualizes the story of his agonizing love and nostalgia through the uses of sensuous language, as he knows that sense impressions constitute the starting point of the poetic process. So, in order to create an atmosphere of delight that will fascinate the reader and arouse his/her feelings and stimulate his/her senses so that he can understand the very essence/message of the poem, he invests sensuousness thoroughly to affect the reader’s senses i.e. hearing, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting, he, therefore, presents beautiful and colourful word pictures to appeal to eyes, musicality to appeal to ears, and what appeals to the senses of touch and taste. In this stanza, he appeals to the senses of hearing and touching through these picture words: “knocking at your heart’s door, recites” and to the kinaesthetic sense “come on, and close the door behind it” and to the sense of taste through the word “bitter”. By borrowing enjoyment and delights from the senses, he enriches his poem and enlarges its significations as a unified whole, so vivid, fresh, intimate and intensified that surprises the reader with its complexity, and enthralment as we will see.
Despite the fact that the stanza focuses on the state of the overwhelming love, it also hints to a fact that the lover has not seen his beloved yet, because she has been absent for ages. And here, the image of absence, created by the descriptive words: “your long bitter absence” assumes a certain importance in the text. It conveys a gesture to what will shed light on the role of absence in the poem and how it confirms the notion of the non-existence of the woman in the Holy Trinity.
The poet in third stanza, which through an enthralling image, reinforces the state of infatuation with the absent beloved, uses the surrealist writing to liberate himself from language constraints that likely impede his ability to express his inners and also obstruct his imagination from soaring high and low to capture and integrate. So, in somewhat a surrealist image, he describes his soul as something liquid, treasured in a bowl, which when it was turned over, his soul spilled out in form of material longing that stained his shirt;
My bowl has turned over
And my soul spilled out
Smearing my shirt with
Longing for you,
Although this kinaesthetic-visual image, consolidated by the use of “hyperbole”(and my soul spilled out), deeply exaggerates the lover’s infatuation, it also glimpses to absence, implied in the word “longing, which means in the long-run absence. The poem focuses on a kind of spiritual love embodied through sensuous representations, associated with beauty (“my soul as it recites your beauty, in my prayer,” and (my soul spilled out and smeared my shirt with longing). yet, it can be read as confirmation of the state of absence that comes in line with the absence of the woman in the first and second stanzas.
The fourth stanza comes as a consolidation of the state of absence as well. It portrays the state of ecstasy on which the lover embarks when his beloved passed before his eyes while he was standing in a queue with a crowd and a drop of her soul forgetfully fell on his soul and his soul flooded with flowers. Not only does it reinforce, but also it gives his unseen beloved an aspect of realism. Though the stanza reflects the lover’s deep adoration, the use of the adverb “forgetfully” turns the spiritual sublime upside-down as it indicates that the drop of her soul fell on his by accident not on purpose and accordingly, the love might be considered as one sided in this context. Besides that, the image “flooded” with flowers enhances this sense for it has two meanings; denotative or primary meaning (flourished) with and connotative (gone out of the body or passed away) in that it implies absence, as well. Anyhow, all this magnificence is embodied in concrete sensuous images that appeal to the reader’s senses, to aid him to understand the sights and sounds expressed or suggested in the poem; but in the meantime, it may distract the reader’s mind from catching the very essence of the poem, which he likely interprets as just a love story due to the language deviations heavily used by the poet. Yet, it has also supplied some glimpses within the overflowing of feelings such as indignation against the Holy Trinity, love overwhelming and the beloved’s absence, but all of them are not sufficient to take hold of the thing underlying its depth and has been unfolded yet.
I was lined up
With the crowd on the sidewalk,
As you were passing by,
so flaunted with femininity
forgetfully a drop from your soul,
Fell on my soul,
And my soul flooded with roses,
In the fifth stanza, there is also a reference to this spiritual love and to the absence of the beloved, he calls upon her to roam around his soul as if his soul were a “holy shrine” , urging her to stick to him and congratulate him because he is still looking for the end of the thread in God’s hook. The phrase “the end of the thread in God’s hook” in itself reflects his adherence to spirituality and his relentless pursuit likely to find out the mystery behind her absence or an answer for some riddle or an appropriate excuse for his status. It can be also read as a reference to some mystical love:
Roam around my soul,
Stick to me, congratulate me
For I am still looking
For the end of the thread
In God’s hook.
Unlike the above stanzas, the sixth stanza, which starts with a striking contrast: (always distancing we are/ to gather ourselves) points to a change in the speaker’s tone from spirituality to fragrant eroticism. Maybe, the poet introduces this erotic element to eloquently describe the lover’s voluptuousness on one hand and to drizzle the reader’s mind and heart with flow of more touching images to reign over his mind, on the other hand. Eroticism can get imagination fairly immersed in the atmosphere of love making and in the meantime, distract mind, as much as possible, from penetrating under the skin of the text to arrest its very message, if there is one at all. If this erotic love is carefully investigated, it will quickly turn to be just an another face of spirituality. First of all, it conveys no clue to any actual sexual contact because they are far away from each other, and the erotic images, used by the poet, are no more than sexual imaginations just to quench his under-seated desires and fears as revealed in the words petty desires, nostalgia, adjacent, and beware and spill of spray of the breast; which refer that there is no sexual contact undergone and affirms absence..
spell out our petty desires
that have become tall willows of nostalgia,
how many a time,
we ran on the grass adjacent to your legs,
lest your bra should be torn
and the spray of your breasts will sprinkle out.
In this context, eroticism, as it stems from the poet’s conflicting emotions can be read as impurity within purity since it lacks sexual contact. The poet uses it first, to satisfy the lover’s emotional depravation and then, to state that the beloved is a true woman, not an imaginary one and by extension it satisfies the readers’, in evidence that the lover pretends to have enjoyed the sight of her bodily qualities being stripped off before his eyes through the use of the erotic picture words despite her being far away from him. Not only does the poet want to meet the lover’s sexual hunger, but also to appeal to the reader’s desires, and fascinates his imagination to have it bewitched with the treasures of the body being bared and not with contemplating what is lurking behind the surface of the poem.
This stanza clearly affirms that these erotic pouring are not true for the lovers are always distant from each other as in: “always distancing we are from each other” though an excuse is given in the next line “to gather ourselves”. Even the use of the adjective “adjacent” confirms they are far away from each other however near they are as is reflected in the stanza:
always distancing from each other we are,
To gather ourselves,
How many a time, we ran on the grass adjacent to your legs,
Lest your bra should be torn
And the spray of your breasts will sprinkle out.
We spell our petty appetites,
Which have become tall willows of longing,
The seventh stanza, in which this erotic love is highly escalated, is mixture of the Erotic with the Poetic for the purpose of enhancing intimacy, warmth and making of good bedfellows. The poet seeks to entirely dominate the reader’s mind through eroticism in his poem because it engages imagination, titillates it and turns it on. It also helps people better understand their impulses and in doing so an “erotic poem” becomes a domain in which poets and readers can play out their irrational fears or indulge their deep-seated desires. Yet, these erotic illustrations however touchy they are, imply no sexuality though the lover is so close to his beloved’s hip; they rather imply the constant non-existence of the woman :
I was panting,
At the banks of the waist,
When I was crossing the forest of sapphire,
To pick up the flower of the breast,
Which was by gods blessed,
In the eighth and ninth stanzas and away from the theme of love and longing, the poet or the narrator reveals his character to the reader. In the eighth, he claims to be a legacy or heritage to the one who will come, in that he may refer to the beloved. He also to turns to be a singer and a poet whose poems are contaminated with the tears of pavements, and an owner of a song which has become pale because it has been frequently chewed by throats, that’s why he has hung it on the clothesline certainly after having been washed out from the contamination. And this can be interpreted as an implicit reference to the impurity of his legacy:
I am a legacy to the one who will come,
My poems are contaminated with the tears of pavement,
I has a pale song,
It has been frequently by throats chewed,
So, I hangs it on the clothesline.
While in the ninth, he makes of his beloved an eternal heritage for him. She is his heritage as far as he is her heritage; they are both heritage and owners of heritage. The stanza, which consists of two nights, is charged with captivating picture words. In the first night, it reflects the lover’s lustful memories for his beloved as he numerates her bodily virtues and his yearning for her physical treasures despite her absence. While in the second night, he enhances her real being as she, once gave him a tattoo which was dropped of his caravan and ever since he has been looking for it; it is a token that leads him to the woman who exchanges him her bliss for hell. This is quite opposed to his search for the end of the thread in God’s hook, already elaborated in the above stanzas:
At the first night,
My clouds that are crowded at the corpse of time,
Are fully obedient to your body that resides
At the ends of alleys,
Yearning to your generous treasures,
This is the glow that is hidden under the shirt,
In the thighs,
In the butts,
In a waist that flows as a silver river,
It is an eternal heritage for me.
In the second night,
I am looking in the mappings of sands,
For cities that hasn’t begun their mass yet,
And for a tattoo that dropped from my caravans,
Of a woman who gives me herself
In return for hell,
The above stanza reveals that the lover is not only concerned with the woman he loves; he is also preoccupied with looking for cities that hasn’t began their mass yet and for a lost tattoo, as well. Here, the word “mass”, enhances the concept of spirituality as much as the word “glow” enhances that the body glows when the flame of love touches it and greatly the emotions are aroused. Glow is light and light implies spirituality as it is light, too.
All the coming stanzas reveal and confirm one fragrant fact; there is no existence of the woman/beloved in the life of the speaker, though he luxuriously expresses his love and infatuation as is the case in the stanzas above. And all the issue of his love is just an absolute delusion or rather a mask to cover some deficiency. As in the next stanza, he retreats to himself, hangs his kisses on the wall nails, and sits recoiled under them, like a sinful Buddhist, only lamenting:
I hang my kisses
On the wall nails
Kiss by kiss,
And sit recoiled
Like a sinful Buddhist
Then, he adds an new clue to this deficiency that casts more light on lover’s character as depicted by the simile as a lazy Tom-Cat” and the extended metaphor “stretches in the warmth of her femininity” , which implies sexuality, but completely refused by the juxtaposition between laziness and warm femininity, which are sharply contrasted regardless the overflow of love feelings:
She still dwells
And occupies the limits of the soul,
And I, like a lazy cat,
Stretches in the warmth of her femininity,
While the twelfth stanza is considered a final declaration of the liquidation of the love relationship between the lovers if there is any at all, in which the lover gives up his beloved for good as expressed in the phrase “without you forever”. The stanza also points to a second glimpse of the mystic love above mentioned “I will be exalting without you forever”. Does this statement mean that the lover seeks to rid himself of his secular side as a condition for the attainment of spiritual sublimity as much as a Sufi seeks to unite with the Divine Self through self-annihilation, and reach absolute happiness? Maybe, as the four closing lines of the stanza ascertains that everything has already ended and no one is still being waited:
That’s enough O Soul,
It all went away,
Close your door now,
We are no longer waiting for anyone.
There is also an element of happiness in the stanza as depicted by the line “O, thou expected glee of ends” ; this glee comes from the termination of the love contract on one side and from intoxication on the other. Although this intoxication is a sin, it makes life bearable, unlike sobriety which makes it unbearable. Can these two elements of happiness and intoxication be taken as clues to self-annihilation and an introduction to the union with the Divinity as in Sufism? Certainly, if it is interpreted as spiritual intoxication:
I will be exalting without you
carrying my happiness away from
Lifetime is long,
Yet, it is only one season,
and unbearable without you,
in which sobriety
is a sin…
It was a bottle of wine,
Caressed by false joyfulness,
O, thou expected glee of ends,
Respond to this burning,
That’s enough, O soul,
Close the door now,
We are no longer waiting for anyone.
Yet, the thirteenth stanza takes a different course, in which the poem stripes off itself completely; love turns to be just an “ash” as representing the last of the love letters. Here, the word “ash , symbolically refers to the dying of the love flame, strengthened by the lover being deserted as in the phrase;
you let your stature leave me far away,
“faraway without a star
Here, only emptiness dominates his life, where there is no love and no light and in that there is a denial to the probability of mysticism whose primaries are love and intoxication and self-annihilation to reach light. There is no light but darkness “shadow” is prevalent.
While in the fourteenth stanza, the poet reveals new aspect of the speaker’s life; he discloses that the lover denies both spirituality and sensuality; “waiting for a moon to sprinkle him with light”.
There is only one interpretation of this new change; it is an escape forward because his life, in particular and life in general, has been entirely stripped off; it is mere crucible of pipe dreams:
The isolated proud flower,
which is far from the cross
near to the abyss,
and sadder than Caesar, (a hint to Brutus who was the first to stab his Lord Julius Caesar)
will remain pure
with no false decoration,
this flower who removed the yellow finger,
will remain alone
waiting for a moon to sprinkle him with light.
The notion of the fourteenth stanza, is reinforced by the fifteenth one which shows that all of his life is an absolute absurdity not worth living at all, out of which he has come out with nothingness:
With a little of sorrow
And much of joy,
I stand ecstatically,
Like an ass
In universal dialogue
With the wall.
Out of these charming realms of love, we can come out with the fact that the protest against the Holy Trinity in the first stanza is mere a sham protest because all the stanzas of the poem confirms her non-existence or absence and this is consistent with her non-existence in the Holy Trinity. It is used just for literariness and to conceal the state of the lover being virgin, perhaps due to cultural reasons. By the power of imagination and sensitiveness, Khaled Khashan has been able to mingle and homogenize the parts of the text in a well- structured whole, accurately embodied by his flowing simple language in distinct individual sensuous images with all accompanying complex ambiguities, which words alone cannot captivate. Despite being overwrapped by literary deviations, the message of the text clearly and transparently emerges as if it were the phoenix rising from beneath the halo of light, which is emitted by the images radiating relations as the Poet’s Virginity or the Ego’s in the poem;
I will be exalting without you,
It is worth mentioning that “poetry which brings in states of mind works according to cognitive system, which organizes its elements and augments it with an interpretational programme, in addition to all strategies and tactics of the intervention between semantics and knowledge of embodying communication” and this poem, the “Familial Day” is a typical example of all that has been mentioned earlier. It has several figures of speech such as simile, allegory, metaphor, oxymoron and imagery.
I’ve found out today
That the wife
The Holy Trinity
Alas, for that.
I’ve been knocking at
The door of your heart for ages,
Haven’t you heard …?!
my soul as it recites your beauty
in my prayer
take your bitter absence all
and close the door behind it,
My bowl was turned over
and my soul spilled out
and my shirt was smeared
with longing for you
I was lined up
with the crowd on the sidewalk,
when you passed by,
flaunted with femininity
and forgetfully a drop
your soul fell
on my soul
So my soul flooded with flowers.
Roam around my soul,
and stick to me,
and congratulate me
for I am still looking
for the end of the thread
in God’s hook.
Always distancing we are from each other
to gather ourselves,
we spell our petty desires
That spilled on our shirts
And became tall willows of nostalgia
How many a time we ran
on the grass adjacent to your legs
Lest your bra should break
And the spray of your breasts sprinkles.
I was panting
at the banks of the waist
When I crossed the Sapphire Forest
To pick the flower of the breast
Which was by gods’ sublimity blessed
I am the legacy for the one who will come,
an owner of poems,
that are contaminated
with tears of pavement,
I have a faint song
For it has been frequently chewed
by the throats,
I am hang it on the clothesline.
at the first night,
my clouds are accumulated at the corpse of time
fully obedient to your body that resides
at the ends of the alleys,
and craving for your generous treasures,
this glow is hidden under the shirt,
in the thighs,
in the hips,
a waist that flows like a river of silver,
it is an everlasting heritage…for me,
at the second night,
looking at sand maps
for cities that haven’t begun their mass yet,
and for a tattoo that dropped from my caravans,
of a woman who exchanges me her bliss,
in return of hell.
I hang your kisses
On wall nails
and sit recoiled under them,
like a sinful Buddhist
and start lamenting.
You still dwell
in this heart
and occupy the limits of the soul
and I’m stretching
in the warmth of her femininity
like a lazy cat.
I will be exalting without you,
carrying my happiness,
away from you,
life is very long,
yet, it is only one season,
it is so boring,
and unbearable with you,
in it, sobriety is a sin
a bottle of wine
caressed by fake joy,
O thou expected glee of the ends,
respond to this burning
O, Soul, that’s enough
she passed …
now, close your door,
We are no longer waiting for anyone
Ash is the last of the letters,
and the first of the bleeding books,
you let your stature
leaving me away
away without a star
only a shadow
prevalent in my depths,
Spraying my fields,
You are left by the first eyes,
O moon, wounded with loneliness,
The lonely proud flower,
The farthest from the cross
and the nearest to the abyss
and sadder than Caesar
will remain pure
with no false decoration,
this flower from which the yellow fingers were removed,
he will remain alone
waiting for a moon to throw light at him
with a little sorrow,
and a lot of joy
I stand ecstatic
like a sin,
like an ass
in a universal dialogue
with the wall.
Khaled Khashan is an Iraqi poet, born in 1966, modernist oriented. He published four poetry collections: Adam’s Childhood, Familial Brawl, The Wild Bird, and Used Poems.
Henry Smith (Lateef Shareef Dhmayd)