Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Walk in Damascus Amidst the Symbols of Humanity

I went to visit the National Museum in the centre of town this afternoon, perhaps searching for what Burnside has described as:

“The haunting
We contrive by going out
To where
We don’t belong”

The garden outside the museum itself is a garden of calm – all the more notable as it is neighbour to a particularly busy stretch of road – where you can stroll or sit as you please. Sections of pillars nestle awkwardly on raised platforms also displaying statues. Most intriguing is the way over half of the statues are missing their heads. I took some photos of these missing heads; the body decapitated in a Taliban-like frenzy of idol destruction?

I tried to find out from the museum’s staff. Upon reaching a suitable candidate for my question, I realised I had forgotten the Arabic word for statue, and being inside the museum itself I had no visual aids to point at. Settling for a workable alternative, I asked away: “Is there a reason why some of the symbols of humanity outside are missing heads?” Needless to say I was met with incomprehension and left no less the wiser. The incompleteness manifest in the semi-corporeal figures brought me back once more to John Burnside.

In the final section of In Kansas, a poem published in his latest collection The Good Neighbour, he recalls Xenocrates (“that sullen Greek”) and his idea that people die twice, once on Earth, then for a second time on the Moon when the mind separates from the soul and travels to the Sun. His description of these souls, hiding away on the dark side of the moon is comic and at the same time bracing:

“I wonder if he thought
our other souls

were real, half-human
standing in the light,

with silver

and barely a flicker of wings
at their crippled shoulders,

I wonder
If they seemed to him

Benevolent, or ghostly,
True, or false,

Gathered together
For warmth and conversation,

Twins to the living souls
They would replace,

The fragrance of a rose,

The weight of snow,
Or how an apple falls

On the cusp of afternoon.

Surely he would have
Known enough to guess

That souls live in the dark,
Like fleas, or mice,

And these, our other selves,
Are neither vague nor pale,

But utterly substantial
When they swarm

In hundreds,
On the far side of the moon,

Cunning, feral,
Waiting to be born,

No more or less like us
Than rocks, or sand,

But marked with a slipknot of blood
For the world to come:

Its salt and rain, its feasts,
Its widowhood.”


Anonymous Imad Ahmed said...

Dear Alex

You are my hero, man. You represent everything I aspire to be.

From Imad, cafe Rawda, damascus
PS: nice post
and you can say asnaam for statues

4:58 AM  

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