Rob Schultheis: "Scheherazade"

By Rob Schultheis

Rob (Rob Schultheis is the author of six books, including "The Hidden West" and "Fool's Gold," the latter about the changing face of his home town, Telluride, Colorado.

Since 1984, Rob has covered the wars in Afghanistan for Time magazine and other periodicals, also freelancing as cameraman for the networks. Over the years, he has written for "The Washington Post," "National Geographic Magazine," and "Outside" magazine. Rob is also an accomplished painter. A show of his images (along with work by his wife Nancy Craft) will be on display this summer at Telluride's Ah Haa School for the Arts. Telluride Inside… and Out is delighted to welcome Rob, a close friend and professional colleague, to our pages.

His poem is a cry of despair for a world that is now limping around, looking back at us all reproachfully for forgetting to remember. But it is also a love song for his friend. And in that love there is hope.)

The story behind my poem:

Salmaan Peerzada comes from a long line of Sufis, artists and writers, who can trace back their legacy to the Ferghana Valley in the heart of Central Asia  He and his brothers live in Lahore, Pakistan. Until recently, they ran one of the biggest traveling circus companies in South Asia, as well as an annual experimental theater festival that drew entrants from over 40 countries.

Salmaan and I had many friends in common in Pakistan during the 80s, but didn't actually meet until Salmaan brought his epic film "Zar Gul" to the Flagstaff Film Festival. While there, Salmaan met the members of Blackfire, the Dineh' (Navajo) rock band, old friends of mine, who finally introduced us. Salmaan planned to film a mega-epic film of  "Sheherazade" using the unused film studios in the former Soviet Central Asia. He partnered up with me, when I was was scribbling screenplays in L.A. (I was one of those responsible for bringing "Seven Years in Tibet" to the screen and nearly ruining the story.)

Salmaan and I planned the storyline around a battle between Sheherazade's spirit of music, art and freedom of speech versus the medieval Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan-i-Sabah, whose assassins, young men brainwashed into robotic beings like today's suicide bombers, terrorized the Middle and Near East at the time of the Crusades.  

Salmman is now stuck back in Lahore and I am stranded in the U.S. for the time being. However, we continue to dream back and forth about making "The Film That Would Save the World"….

SHEHERAZADE
 
(for Salmaan Peerzada)
 
                         1.
YOU have to look in your heart—
That’s where the Silk Road the real
one starts,
if you can find it;
I’m still looking…
 
IN my faulty memory jacked up by
the over imagination of one
In peril and trying
to dream or imagine a way out
as fast as possible there is a scene in
Eisenstein’s script for the film he never made
where/ the Ferghana Chagatai Sufi girl
who knew all there was to know & more
danced barefoot in the  young king’s garden
(“beneath which great rivers run”) where
the nightingales sang, and every
tale she told drove Death away; and when she struck
her tambourine the golden note
echoed in the air for 100 years, they say…
 
“This dream will never die, and that which is true must last forever”,
said Alkazar;  but then he set out for Samarkand
and was never seen again
only in the aching eye of the mind
can we beg him to explain..
but he only smiles (not unkindly):
“Impossibility is the only
impossible thing in the universe..
I never reached Samarkand
but I met the Green Man on the road…”
 
                               2.
HERE’S what I fear,  my friend:
that Scheherazade will never dance again,
That she & her stories are lost forever.
 
This is the age of no visions at all, and
“Without visions the people perish,”
saith the Prophet.
 
Without the storyteller
there is no truth.
Without truth there is no beauty.
Without beauty no joy, without joy
no inspired intent, and everything
falls apart and is gone.
The kingdom the city the garden where truth was told:
and the stories themselves…
our whole world dies from the center out
and the edges in
It burns.
 
Without walls a garden dies; in time
the hard mud turns to dust, and the stones
tumble out like old men’s teeth and the walls
vanish, and the desert
swallows you whole. Green trees are now
parchment and sticks the hot wind rattles;
no sweet fruit,  no shade. The canals fill with sand;
there are no flowers,  no nightingales sing:
the songs of dead birds are silence.
Even the name of the king and his city
Are long forgotten.
 
“Once there was a great kingdom here, a mighty city
with a good and righteous king—
oh, and most of all there
was Sheherazade and her stories,
each like a magic carpet, that flew you away
to Shambala, Shangri-la and Paaradise
the Dome of the Rock, or Karbala.
Can you imagine?
 
But we can’t remember them.
Everything’s gone, and now
we are all that is left, a few old men who sell
bitter water and lies to the traveler.
Musafir azeesz khoda.
 
                                                      3
 
FAR far away in  the dead men’s mountain
Hassan-i-sabah smiles in his dreams
thinking his time has come around again;
it always does; for men
are stupid and easily fooled into
setting their world on fire forever
and ever, over and over,
till it’s gone.
The same old lame  tricks never fail.
 
“Have you ever smoked
a million burning bodies?
The high is quite indescribable,
I assure you.
Try it once & you’re hooked.”
 
“Don’t look so disgusted,
for I was once like you, my friend—
you’ll see,
when you’re like me.”
 
“Why are you laughing?
OPEN YOUR EYES:
The glaciers are already dying,
soon  the rivers,
there’ll be no gardens anymore,
No magic stories  & no one to tell them
And no one will even care.”
 
“You will?
Then I pity you, my friend,
for you are alone,
and deep in your dying heart
I know  you know
that deat
h and the desert
And I are still around
at the end of every story
Scheherazade never told.
and we’ll be waiting for you
After your story’s done.”
 
                                                      4.
 
My dear Salmaan-jan,
 
Asalaamaleikum.
 
Let’s  re-invent the king, you & I,
and let him build another city
from the buried memories of the last.
The garden will re-appear
like Babur’s in Kabul,
revived by the rains we dream.
Sheherazade?  We’ll find one,
she’ll grow into the part;
the stories will come
In time, from the same place
all stories are born,
that Mysterious Nameless Nowhere
that dreamed us all and all our lives
and everything else.
 
Death to death!
Let liars strangle
on their tangled tongues
and drink their poison neat.
We’ll turn Eisenstein’s vision
inside out, upside down & bright side up
a la Einstein and Wittgenstein
to dazzle the groundlings.
Who could sleep through the din
of a million nightingales
each nightingale a bird of
a thousand stories
(“Hazar dastan”, as they say)?
By the third act the stage
becomes the world,
and all the sets have changed,
blue skies are shining at you
and God appears from a trapdoor
to save the day.
 
We should be unstoppable, you & I
for we share the same sky
when you see the sun, I see the moon
mirror of the sun.
Write “khoda’afez” on a beam of light,
and when I read it then I’ll know
you got this message that I
 dreamed for you tonight.

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