Dancing shaman with a kingfisher's head.
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The Ghazal Page

November Issue

All text and design © 2007, by Bill Batcher, Gail White, Rebecca Byrkit, Norman Darlington, and Gene Doty.


Bill Batcher

I hope to whet your appetite with this sher.
Pique your interest as you peek at this sher.

What soup does the Almighty prefer?
(I made a great leap with this sher.)

If you hunger for the entreé, you probably
are not paying attention to this sher.

After a whole smorgasbord of ghazals, your eyes
grow heavy by the time you read this sher.

But when you get the Bill, then you know
the ghazal is over with this sher.

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Broken Contracts

Bill Batcher

Pilgrims attend temple expecting the ideal rite.
After all, that's part of the deal. Right?

The Korean War veteran's broken arm,
like the Peninsula, could never heal right.

The spider's pretty parlor seemed pleasant,
Yet to the fly, it somehow didn't feel right.

The battle was lost, the kingdom was lost,
and all for the want of a wheelwright.

Bill surprised us with another ghazal.
We can never predict what he'll write.

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Ghazal: Dust

Gail White

Cars on a country road raise clouds of dust.
Between Love and me, a thousand miles of dust.

If I were buried in my enemy's grave,
In a thousand years, who could divide our dust?

In dreams I see my mother always pacing
The living room, looking for things to dust.

Why did I think love would survive separation?
In every letter the ink is clogged with dust.

G, you sad poet, who will remember you
And your sorrows? Melting snow and billowing dust.

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Ghazal: Gone August

Rebecca Byrkit
. . . and the trees, and the trees, and the trees and the trees! Whoo!
— Friends of Distinction

Gone August: blueberries and mayonnaise in the grasses —
Your thermos of Guinness. My chardonnay's in the grasses

Gone crackers and sweet cheeses. Gone melon. Molasses —
Gone mango souari nut-breathed Thursdays in the grasses.

Gone grazin'. You Boch-drunk. Clink of spoons on sunglasses —
Me, girl gone glisterlight. Whitehot malaise in the grasses

Gone soft aspen slantlight that blisters, then passes —
Gone your kisses, O my Clearing! Wooded ways in the grasses.

Gone lemon, pistachio. White napkin. Gone lashes —
Gone the longgone gone long game that stays for days in the grasses.

Winter lawn, one leaf whips into sky, then crashes —
I remember the tune of your tongue, praise the Grasses.

The chinchillette broods on small losses, great lapses —
Thimbleberry, going; count to tres in the grasses

Gone a caught August's almonds. Winters that pass us —
Greet the stupefied Loneliness. Praise that Craze in the Grasses.

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O thou, my Eye

Norman Darlington

ya 'aini (O thou, my Eye), must I swear this oath to you again?
And will you lead me to the Flame again?

ya shamsi (O thou, my Sun), your noonday heat resembles mine.
I climb the jagged peak, to be near you once again.

ya lisani (O thou, my Tongue), the Truth when captured within words
becomes Untruth: don't vainly try again!

ya qalbi (O thou, my Heart), I follow you through deepest shade,
and fear I'll never see the Light again.

ya yammi (O thou, my Sea), let me sink forever in your depths;
your cold comfort tempts me down and down again.

ya nafsi (O thou, my Soul), pay no heed to these deceptive calls;
let us listen for the One True Song again.

ya hamri (O thou, my Wine), I long to drain you to the lees,
to whirl drunkenly around, and around again!

ya habibi (O thou, my Beloved), when did you come? where did you go?
I sat idly penning verse - please show your face again!

The phrases beginning each sher are in Arabic that is translated in the following parentheses.

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Norman Darlington

I awaken from a dream of gardens in the west
Sunrise in my eyes, I quickly close them, turning west

On the high Alpujarra melting snow feeds purling streams
Orange blossom wafting gently on a breeze from the west

Through the night the oud resounds from valley wall to wall
Till the first muezzin calls to east and then to west

My beloved's precious books are trampled underfoot
His holy pages scattered by a storm out of the west

Moriscos and Marranos attend their secret rites
They hunger for their kin, all long banished from the west

Poets recite glorious tales of far al-Andalus,
While here I sit and stammer through this verse, in the west

Notes for "West"
Stringed instrument, forerunner of the lute, pronounced 'ood' (the English word lute is derived from al-oud: the oud)
Mountainous region of Andalusia in southern Spain
The crier who calls the Muslim faithful to prayer from the minaret five times a day
Moriscos and Marranos:
Secret Muslims and Jews, respectively, outwardly practicing Christianity under pressure from the Inquisition

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Editor's Comments

Bill Batcher

It's a pleasure to publish more of Bill Batcher's witty ghazals. "Digestion," of course, is less serious than "Broken Contracts." In both ghazals, Batcher's play with the radifs generates the wit. In "Broken Contracts," the qafiya coordinates very closely with the radif to present some surprising combinations. This ghazal illustrates how radifs that are homophones can work very effectively.

Gail White

While grimmer in tone than Bill Batcher's ghazals, Gail White's "Dust" engages in equally witty play with the radif. This poem has some real personal resonance for me: I grew up in Rural Kansas in the 1940s and '60s. Kansas means "south wind" or "the people of the south wind." If you've spent any time in Kansas, you'll know how persistent the south wind is. And it often blows dust. We had some serious dust storms when I was a child: topsoil blew into drifts across the roads like snow. Reading this poem, I feel the grit in my eyes and ears from that many years ago. "Dust" also is one of those archetypal images; Gail White uses it very expressively in this ghazal.

Rebecca Byrkit

After reading this poem, read Stephen Hortsmann's ghazal with the same radif in the July issue. Different poets using the same radif is both a traditional practice and an inviting one for us. grasses, of course, suggests the biblical trope, "Allflesh is grass," found in the Hebrew poetry of Tanak. "Grass" is like dust, an archetypal image, expressing transience.

If you're not in the habit of reading poems aloud, I strongly recommend it. (Except for concrete poetry!) Rebecca Byrkit has gone beyond syntax in some of the phrases here, with a resultant syncopation and intensification of her language. Also, in addition to qafiya, she has rhymed the first line of each sher with "grasses" — the sound system of "grasses" will repay careful attention.

Norman Darlington

When a poetic form moves from one language and culture to another, there are several issues to resolve. One, which had been discussed a lot regarding the ghazal, is how the form will change to fit the new language and culture. The changes may be few and slight or many and extensive.

Another issue, which hasn't been discussed much regarding the ghazal (to my knowledge) is the typical content, imagery, and themes of the poetic form in its home culture. Traditionally, the ghazal has been a vehicle for expressions of love, erotic, human, divine, and then the ecstacy experienced in the mystic path. (David Jalajel's "History of the Ghazal" takes the form back to its pre-Islamic beginnings in Arabic.) Norman Darlington's two ghazals skillfully evoke the traditional themes and imagery, while avoiding the risk of becoming precious and affected. "O thou, my Eye" invokes the Beloved in personal and intimate terms, the Arabic phrases added a tone and texture to the English that works quite well. "West" evokes Muslim Spain in haunting tones that enrich the reader's world while lamenting the lost world of al-Andalus.

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