Ahmad Shamlu

Tablet

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As the dark cloud passed, I
in the crimson shadow of the moon
viewed the square and the streets
an octopus stretching a languid leg in every direction
toward a black swamp.

And on the cold cobblestones
a crowd stood, so many
and in the midst a prolonged aticipation
bordering on despair and weariness.

And every time the restlessness of the waiting
crept over them, it was as if
the animal shivered under his hide
from the chill of a running water
or else an itching sensation.

I descended the dark stairway
holding the dust-covered tablet in my hands
and stood upon the dais
a half-spear higher than the multitude.

And I saw the crowd, so many
filling the cells all around the square
all over the space it extended
shaped by every passageway leading to the field
up to the borders of shade and gloom
like wet ink spreading into the dark
And with them was anticipation and silence.

Then I held up the clay tablet crying unto them:
"This is all there is, and sealed
it's an old inscrition, aged and worn, lo! behold!
however tainted with the blood of many a wound
mercy it preaches, friendship and honesty."

The crowd, however, lent no ear or heart to me
it seemed as if in the waiting itself was pleasure and profit
I yelled out to them: "You, devoid of courage
in vain you wait, this is the very last Coming."

And I cried out: "Gone are the days
of mourning some crucified Christ
for today every woman is another Mary
and every Mary has a Jesus upon the cross
albeit with no Crown of Thorns, no Cruciform
and no Golgotha
no Pilate, no judges and no court of justice
Christs all of a destiny, clad similarly
uniform Christs, with boots and leggings alike
alike in everything,
with the same share of bread and gruel
(for sameness is indeed the dear heritage
of the human race)
and if not a crown of thorn,
there is a helmet to wear upon the head
and if not a cross
there is a rifle to bear on the shoulder
means of greatness all at hand
every supper may well be The Last
and every glance perchance that of a Judas.

"But beware, weary not your steps
in search of the orchard
for with the tree you shall meet upon your cross
when humanity and compassion
misty as a dream, gentle and fast
will rise before your eyes,
and the savage fangs of the truth
sharp as the rays of the desert sun
will pierce your eyes.

"And you shall know how ill-starred you are
how ill-starred you are!
for the least in you would suffice
to make you most happy
a sincere salaam, a warm hand, an honset smile
And this little you had not.

"Nay, weary not your steps
in search of the orchard
for there is no time
neither for a blessing or for a curse
neither for forgiveness nor for revenge.

"And no more, alas, does the pathway to the Cross
lead to an ascent onto the heavens
but downward to hell and a perpetual wandering
of the soul."

In my delirious fever I kept on crying
but the crowd had no ear or heart for my words
I knew that they were awaiting
not a clay tablet but a Gospel
a sword and some constables
to ambush them with whips and maces
to drop them to their knees
before the heavy steps of the one
who will descend the dark stairway
with a sword and a Gospel.

Then I wept long and hard
and my teardrops were truths
although truth is indeed no more than a word
as if with my tears
I was recounting a desperate truth.

Ah! this crowd, seeking the horrid truth
only in legends, worships the sword
as the weapon of eternal justice
for in our time the sword is a legendary tool.

And thus is called the true martyr
only he who shields his bare chest before the sword
as though suffering, agony and martyrdom
are too ancient to happen with modern warfare.

But what of all the souls burnt in the flames of gunpowder
and what of all the souls bereft of everything
but a vague shadow of a figure
in the horrifying order of millions and millions.

Ah! this crowd seeks the horrid truth
only in legends, or else considers truth
nothing but a legend.

My words the crowd ignored
for I had said the last word about the heavens
without even mentioning the word heaven.

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Ahmad Shamlu