The Jinn

have an oily railyard lantern flare
of equivocal blaze. Sometimes, when so
inclined, the coastal jinn give off a musk
animal glow such as cat fur produces on a rainy day.
They are fond of tall tales and they cluster round
the burner when the bunn is being roasted.
As the magic whiff
of freshly roasted coffee beans climbs up
the hairy wall of the tent and as tranquility
glints in the smug crimson of the coal,
the jinn begin to gloss the words of men.

Their speech is an incised shape of silence, an intaglio,
in which the word is not a single, schisted bloc
of sense, like ours, but guards its pristine
opacity and is impossible
for any dragoman to approximate

We can only
struggle to imagine their colloquies,
all consonant and sukûn,
a gravity of gesture tinged by the fire they are—
ingot-malleable, nugget-plush, pyritic and aureate—
and yet, for all their clang,

perorating and impulsive as a flame.

Eric Ormsby, from Araby, included in Time’s Covenant: Selected Poems

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