POEM: Awe Full Going On

In oblivious camp
The guard threw shoes at us
My pair was too big to fill
More suited to Tariq
Though mine were newer
Tariq’s were old
And bound to be
A little too snug
Seeing more than a pair
In his eyes
More than a trader
As a Spanish Moor
Don quixotically
His feat covered
In such a broad cast
O Don my don
Never entreating
Me mirrorly
For what
I had
My number coming up
Finding myself only
Equal to death
In life
And awe full
That’s going on

WARNING: This commentary contains spoilers — and/or clues.

This 92-word poem is packed with overlapping and intertwined cultural references.  First, the initial inspiration came from an unexpected source, a source to which I stumbled upon, from a momentary image in the graphic novel, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, where he chronicles his parents’ experiences as Holocaust survivors; specifically in a short “Making of Maus” presentation by PBS. A character commented on the shoes he was thrown by a concentration camp guard paying no attention whatsoever to matching the shoe with the man.  This struck me as a surreal brandishing of a perversed proverb, “If the show doesn’t fit, wear it.”

Fast forward to today.  Instead of in a concentration camp, the setting is an “oblivious camp,” a self-parody of the horror of genocide.  Given a recipient named Tariq, the implied guard is an Israeli, a Zionist, maybe even a Jew (this is the author speaking).  The apparent irony of Israeli fascism is further multiplied by shoe throwing as an especially insulting gesture to Arabs.  The guard neither knows nor cares.

The story is told in unnamed first-person.  Those who know me, the author, know that I am not Palestinian.  Those who really know me, know that I am Palestinian — at least if weave ever metaphor.  The narrator has a newer, “better” pair compared to his companion shoe receiver, Tariq.  The “too big to fill” as well as “pair” also refer to a man’s balls, i.e., courage.  The hubris of violent retribution may pass for courage, yet, remain “too big to fill.”  Something of a higher spiritual nature is lacking, preventing fulfillment.  Being puffed up with worldly power also leaves us cramped spiritually.  The “too big to fill” is also a reference to “big shoes to fill,” meaning of a challengingly high moral fulfillment — “More suited to Tariq.”  While Tariq’s shoes (and balls) were old, he was “Bound to be,” to exist freely in his being and be bound in his existence.  To the unschooled, “A little too snug” can appear as cramped, naive, even smug. But, alas, “Seeing more than a pair,” there is more to life than mere possessions, or even worldly courage.  “Seeing more than a pair/In his eyes,” is the meeting of souls, through truly looking into the eyes, the windows of the soul, and seeing one another’s humanity.  “More than a pair” alludes to more than a pair of shoes, more than even a pair of companion souls, including and transcending even the oblivious guard, alluding the an ever-mysterious, even awe full third.

Ironically, Tariq means conqueror.  And conquering covers a lot a ground (often with blood).  The Spanish Moor reference deepens the “More than a trader” reference, alluding to more than simply trading tit for tat, more than trading by means of outright conquering, and more than a traitor by alternating roles as oppressor and oppressed in life.  The Moors were African (black), Arab, and Muslim.  They occupied “Spain” for 800 years beginning in 711 AD.  Tariq ibn Ziyad was the conquering Moor general.  They brought literacy and “civilization” to Spain.  The ironies emanating from such history into contemporary life exceed perhaps even that of the most famous Jew, Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, now portrayed as a Christian.  Now, the black Arab, Muslim, Spanish Moor reference turns on Spanish culture with Tariq’s Don status, meaning a lord or gentleman, or even mafia boss; plus, there is the allusion to donning another’s shoes as need be even amidst one’s idealism (Don quixotically).  “His feat covered” alludes to accomplishments lost to history, met with the acceptance and certainty of death.  The inevitable turning of fates does not confound the wise man who sees these as the inexorable breathing in and out of history.

Back to the narrator, “In such a broad cast,” the oblivious dropping of the shoe of history upon us engenders the seeking of redemption in the equanimity of Tariq the conqueror now vanquished of earthly victory.  “O Don my don/Won” is a cry to a Don with a capital D from a don with a lowercase d to move beyond simply donning one set of circumstances after another in a perpetually unfulfilling chase for the ultimate tale — or whatever tale won can muster.  Here lies the reference to “don Won” (Don Juan), history’s most notorious tale chaser, ever confident in youth’s distance from death, ever accessible superficialities, and repentance as procrastination’s crowning achievement in the face of a God sow loving.  What good is clinging to victories when death, the great equalizer, stands over us?

The narrator suspects that Tariq might have an answer.  The narrator’s cry “O Don my don” is a venerable ripoff of Walt Whitman’s, “O Captain, My Captain,” about Abraham Lincoln and his death, reminding us that after even achieving epic victory (e.g., freedom from slavery), our greatest will eventually fall cold and dead, and we will each be left with “mournful tread” as we seek to fulfill our own soul’s purposes without the benefit of particular great souls by our side.  When you are going through hell, keep going -- Winston Churchill quoteThe narrator’s cry to Tariq, all ready as good as dead, confesses his unreciprocated vanity: “Never entreating/Me mirrorly/For what/I had.”  No matter how high we might be able to crank up our number, our number always comes up.  Tariq lives and dies in this essential equality.  Tariq sees beyond the pinings that box us in.  Mysteriously, the challenge becomes clearer when we have little to cling to, and perhaps clearer still, when what we cling to is an unbefitting shoe, freeing us though its tragic comedy.  Know longer cluttered by the stuff of life, the narrator confronts a new reality: “Finding myself only/Equal to death/In life/And awe full/That’s going on.”  As the awful is going on, may you find yourself full of awe, for that’s going on!


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