We’ve come again to that knee of seacoast
no ocean can reach.
Tie together all human intellects.
They won’t stretch to here.
The sky bares its neck so beautifully,
but gets no kiss. Only a taste.
This is the food that everyone wants,
wandering the wilderness, “Please give us
your manna and quail.”
We’re here again with the beloved.
This air, a shout. These meadowsounds,
an astonishing myth.
We’ve come into the presence of the one
who was never apart from us.
When the waterbag is filling, you know
the water carrier’s here!
The bag leans lovingly against our shoulder.
“Without you I have no knowledge,
no way to touch anyone.”
When someone chews sugarcane,
he’s wanting this sweetness.
Inside this globe the soul roars like thunder.
And now silence, my strict tutor.
I won’t try to talk about Shams.
Language cannot touch that presence.
This is the story of the lake and the three big fish
that were in it, one of them intelligent,
and the third, stupid.
Some fishermen came to the edge of the lake
with their nets. The three fish saw them.
The intelligent fish decided at once to leave,
to make the long, difficult trip to the ocean.
“I won’t consult with these two on this.
They will only weaken my resolve, because they love
this place so. They call it home. Their ignorance
will keep them here.”
When you’re traveling, ask a traveler for advice,
not someone whose lameness keeps him in one place.
“Love of one’s country
is part of the faith.”
But don’t take that literally!
Your real “country” is where you’re heading,
not where you are.
Don’t misread that hadith.
In the ritual ablutions, according to tradition,
there’s a separate prayer for each body part.
When you snuff water up your nose to cleanse it,
beg for the scent of the spirit. The proper prayer is,
“Lord, wash me. My hand has washed this part of me,
but my hand can’t wash my spirit.
I can wash this skin,
but you must wash me.”
A certain man used to say the wrong prayer
for the wrong hole. He’d say the nose-prayer
when he splashed his behind. Can the odor of heaven
come from our rumps? Don’t be humble with fools.
Don’t take pride into the presence of a master.
It’s right to love your home place, but first ask
“Where is that, really?”
The wise fish saw the men and their nets and said,
Ali was told a secret doctrine by Muhammad
and told not to tell it, so he whispered it down
the mouth of a well. Sometimes there’s no one to talk to.
You must just set out on your own.
So the intelligent fish made its whole length
a moving footprint and, like a deer the dogs chase,
suffered greatly on its way, but finally made it
to the edgeless safety of the sea.
The half-intelligent fish thought,
has gone. I ought to have gone with him,
but I didn’t, and now I’ve lost my chance
I wish I’d gone with him.”
Don’t regret what’s happened. If it’s in the past,
let it go. Don’t even remember it!
A certain man caught a bird in a trap.
The bird says, “Sir, you have eaten many cows and sheep
in your life, and you’re still hungry. The little bit
of meat on my bones won’t satisfy you either.
If you let me go, I’ll give you three pieces of wisdom.
One I’ll say standing on your hand. One on your roof.
And one I’ll speak from the limb of that tree.”
The man was interested. He freed the bird and let it stand on his hand.
“Number One: Do not believe an absurdity,
no matter who says it.”
The bird flew and lit on the man’s roof. “Number Two:
Do not grieve over what is past. It’s over.
Never regret what has happened.”
“By the way,” the bird continued, “in my body there’s a huge
pearl weighing as much as ten copper coins. It was meant
to be the inheritance of you and your children,
but now you’ve lost it. You could have owned
the largest pearl in existence, but evidently
it was not meant to be.”
The man started wailing like a woman in child birth.
The bird: “Didn’t I just say, Don’t grieve
for what’s in the past? And also, Don’t believe
an absurdity? My entire body doesn’t weigh
as much as ten copper coins. How could I have
a pearl that heavy inside me?”
The man came to his senses. “All right.
Tell me Number Three.”
“Yes. You’ve made such good use of the first two!”
Don’t give advice to someone who’s groggy
and falling asleep. Don’t throw seeds on the sand.
Some torn places cannot be patched.
Back to the second fish,
the half-intelligent one.
He mourns the absence of his guide for a while,
and then thinks, “What can I do to save myself
from these men and their nets? Perhaps if I pretend
to be already dead!
I’ll belly up on the surface
and float like weeds float, just giving myself totally
to the water. To die before I die, as Muhammad
So he did that.
He bobbed up and down, helpless,
within arm’s reach of the fishermen.
“Look at this! The best and biggest fish
One of the men lifted him by the tail,
spat on him, and threw him up on the ground.
He rolled over and over and slid secretly near
the water, and then back in.
the third fish, the dumb one, was agitatedly
jumping about, trying to escape with his agility
The net, of course, finally closed
around him, and as he lay in the terrible
frying-pan bed, he thought,
“If I get out of this,
I’ll never live again in the limits of a lake.
Next time, the ocean! I’ll make
the infinite my home.”
Spiritual experience is a modest woman
who looks lovingly at only one man.
It's a great river where ducks
live happily, and crows drown.
The visible bowl of form contains food
that is both nourishing and a source of heartburn.
There is an unseen presence we honor
that gives the gifts.
You're water. We're the millstone.
You're wind. We're dust blown up into shapes.
You're spirit. We're the opening and closing
of our hands. You're the clarity.
We're this language that tries to say it.
You're joy. We're all the different kinds of laughing.
Any movement or sound is a profession of faith,
as the millstone grinding is explaining how it believes
in the river! No metaphor can say this,
but I can't stop pointing
to the beauty.
Every moment and place says,
"Put this design in your carpet!"
Like the shepherd in Book II,
who wanted to pick the lice off God's robe,
and stitch up God's shoes, I want to be
in such a passionate adoration
that my tent gets pitched against the sky!
Let the beloved come
and sit like a guard dog
in front of the tent.
When the ocean surges,
don't let me just hear it.
Let it splash inside my chest!
I looked for my self, but my self,
but my self was gone.
The boundaries of my being
had disappeared in the sea.
Waves broke. Awareness rose again,
And a voice returned me to myself
It always happens like this.
Sea turns on itself and foams,
and with every foaming bit
another body, another being takes form.
And when the sea sends word,
each foaming body
melts back to ocean-breath.