Greg Simon
The Cairo Museum of Arabic Music
for Michel Bolsey


You must enter on a day
when it is open; it is
never open.
You have to know that you are
never going back, never
writing a song there, never
recording any music,
that you have nothing whatso-
ever to lose.
Even then, if you ask to
see it, they might still say no,
even if you insist beyond
the boundaries of politeness,
if you wave your arms & start
dancing, the way you are when
no one can ever turn you down --
"Perhaps? We'll see."
It is then the gnome appears,
in an ancient fez, who leads you
down into the underground
cavern, past hallways where
no one remembers to change
lightbulbs, clean or dust or wipe
spider webs from the corners,
& just where it can't get darker
he reaches into his purple sash
& withdraws an ancient key
& swings open a hand-carved,
moth-dry door onto a scene
of such astonishing splendor
that a Caliph should be living
there.
              Strewn about,
as if a child had been let
into a playroom -- instruments
of unimaginable joy:
the oud, the buzuq, the qanun;
rabab, mijwiz, & kamanja.
What sadness they must be hoarding,
what tragedy in their muteness.
It is at a moment like this
that you will truly comprehend
Arabic, how its intricate
loops & whorls are familiar
music, to be read right to left,
stopping & starting with the pulse
of a heartbeat.
Iridescent pearl, ebony,
the shimmer of hammered copper,
gold, silver, steel -- for whatever
happens next when you pick up the oud
& pluck its strings, you'll never need
apologies.