Once Upon a Time

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They say perception is reality. If that is so, then there is beauty in everything.
There is beauty in the darkness as well as in the light.

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Field Notes: “Dear Joe…this is what I happened today…or what I saw, thought or heard…”

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Sometimes when I am writing to him, or we talk about something, it inspires me to write. Those are usually the best times and the best ones. They are usually the ones where I dig deep. With him I let down my guard and am not just thinking, but feeling. I reach for deeper understanding. My field notes begin with “Dear Joe…this is what I happened today…or what I saw, thought or heard…”

I carry two books with me wherever I go. Both are addressed to the man in my life. He is my best friend, my muse and my confident, all wrapped into one. In one I do vent and just speak from emotions. Mostly it’s just saying things I don’t mean. The other is just me speaking to him, when I have no other way of connecting.  To me, he is my best friend. Right or wrong, that’s how it is. He’s my inspiration. Over the years, I’ve tried to distance myself from him and turn those feelings and connection into something different, something distant and disconnected. But, it isn’t just about feelings. Not for me. It’s about a place he holds in my life that is only of family. He is not replaceable and never expendable.

I have asked so many questions and looked beyond doctrine alone to understand this place, to examples and places beyond just what I am told. I can’t just believe without question. I have to know the why, how and what. I didn’t come back to my religion out of fear or hopes of some grand reward. I did so because I truly believe. Maybe I don’t seem to believe in the same sense as many people do or maybe not in the same manner as most. I didn’t do it through ritual or conservative dogma. I believe in the God who created us, gave us free will, expressed his most intimate concerns and expectations for us as people and a society. I believe in the God that taught us to love and gave us the ability to discern.

I don’t believe God put anyone in my path that has given me so much, for no reason. I have grown a lot in all the years since I met this man and that wasn’t something I did alone. That very much had to do with his coming into my life and being a part of it. It’s the biggest reason he matters beyond just emotions. It is why I believe he is in my life for a reason. He’s a blessing. Because he has made me a better person. I looked at all the aspects of my life. He has inspired me to grow and expand my worldview. He gave me wings and security so that I feel I can do anything. He helped me to progress and has shown me to love and look at myself in a critical way. He’s pushed me to be someone beyond who I was. He’s given me vision and helped me to have hope and believe. He is the reason I came back to God. I cannot ever see him as anything negative or have any regret. He is not a mistake. God put him in my life when I didn’t know I needed someone. He keeps him in it for a reason. No one has to tell me who he is in my life. I’ve known it a while. It’s why I came back to him. I do not see him as just sex or someone I love. He’s is beyond that in my life. Those are just the perks. I was once told that the definition of family is its members working to support, accept each other and see each other through. Whenever I think of him I can’t help but feel thankful, it’s always what I mean. When I become angry it’s always from fear. He’s someone I value and can’t imagine him not in my life. He is the one man I measure everyone against.

When he asked for another chance, I thought about it over and over. When he asked me to trust him again, I turned it all over looking for some kind of deception. Even when he expressed his feelings for me, his concerns and his struggles, although it scared me, I couldn’t turn away. I thought about all of it. I even thought to run. But, I pushed through those feelings and thoughts to try to be the woman who learned once again, that there is so much to life, to be grateful for all the gifts I’ve been given and to cherish every moment I’m bestowed.

He is my tether when I might just float away into my own world.

Sir Thomas Moore said it best, “You wouldn’t abandon ship in a storm just because you couldn’t control the wind.”

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Salvation and Mercy

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I sit in the shadows watching as an old priest in orthodox tradition, giving the liturgy in Arabic…talking about salvation and mercy. Some parts of Cairo are pristine and untouched. Then suddenly as one turns a corner, nothing but skeletons; the bare bones of old memories and long ago picked carcasses of history. The rhythmic timbre of his voice, like musical notes slipping through time and entering my thoughts,

[…]You don’t hurt others to save yourself. God will not accept your salvation on the backs of another. God won’t have mercy on you in the end. Have mercy on those who help you, care for you and take care of those who take care of you and your soul will be washed or cleansed and you shall be first in salvation[…]

His incantation, but a slow murmur; almost hypnotic as he slips between Arabic and Greek. The building empty, except for 2 old women whispering in the corner and a young mother dragging her little one across an isle. His voice filling the void between chaos and calm. My heart beating faster as I hide in distractions from my own thoughts and memories. Sometimes the suffering becomes too much. Then I realize, maybe it’s me and not them. I look around and life is moving forward. I’m standing still. His voice bleeds into my thoughts. His monotonous tone suddenly lifting and swaying in comforting rhythmic waves. 

[…] There is no power greater than sacrifice…sacrifice and redemption require compassion and mercy. Be kind to those are kind to you. Have compassion for those who hurt you and love those who will love you back. Sacrifice for those who will sacrifice for you. The offering fuels the calm…To be among the merciful is the highest 1456489546_web1calling there is[…]

I wasn’t really listening after that. What stuck in my head most was:

 

“[…] you don’t hurt others to save yourself […]”

 

71215733I’m not sure of the intended focus of his topic. I could only hear bits and pieces though my own distractions. There was an odd silence and a slow hum. I could hear voices beyond the walls, speaking rapidly and sometimes I could hear laughter in the distant night. Maybe it was the influence of my journey to get here.  Maybe it was my own paranoia. I heard every sound, even the silence was overwhelmingly and unnerving. In the distance, was it gun fire or just my imagination out of control? Every shadow, friend or foe?

I try to relax and put on a façade-confident and unafraid. That’s my reputation. I’m tough, fearless and self-assured. I’m reminded. It’s amazing what a person can get used to. Not tonight. Tonight I sit watching shadows fading from place to place. I watch lights flicker and burn away. I hear every sound and nothing at all. I watch the everyday, as people come and go. I’m startled out of my thoughts and jump slightly as I hear the sounds of an angry mob. I pause for a moment, uncertain; take a deep breath, I remind myself. I look around. No one is moving. When in Egypt…I walked slowly through the aisles and toward the front entrance. I see a crowd running past. The new normal of Cairo…the peace and chaos meshed into some unimaginable new civility. 

I’m not too bright when it comes to danger. Most run from it. I tend to run to it. I would be that person running into the woods alone at night chasing after some mysterious figure , all for the satisfaction of assuaging my curiosity.  That’s me. I walk down the road following the crowd. Nothing serious, but only in my own mind. Just a wedding; a moment of happiness and joy in in all the chaos; something good and positive rising from the rubble. How amazing that life goes on. When morning comes, I still can’t sleep.

It’s the mundane that I take for granted. I take for granted all of my every days, my usual trip to the gym without a worry or my bi monthly grocery shopping spree. It is not only Egypt.  I’m a Muslim woman in an uncertain world, the violence growing, the attacks against my community and soMideast Egypt much anger and hate, drowning out any semblance of peace. So maybe this security which I once took for granted, isn’t so assured now. Maybe what I am seeing here, is a glimpse into the future of my adopted homeland. This is new normal, the calm-chaos of everyday life. Did that already happen? Did I become numb to the chaos and violence?  I did not noticed until I had no other choice.

Life continues, through the anger, through the pain and even through the destruction. We are a resilient species. It is another sign of mercy in an uncertain existence.

Churches burnt to the ground all in the name of Islam, I’m told.

All of this for what? It is not in the name of Islam. It is in the name of power and control. People being the victims to another oppressive force, superimposing itself upon Islam to achieve an agenda. They don’t even pretend to follow Islam. Not by action or thought. It’s just the facade placed upon them to validate the existence and aggressive nature of their intentions. The world coming apart it seems.

…just stuck in my head the rest of the morning.

This is not my Islam. This is some vapid creature that not even the Prophet would recognize.

It reminded me of a saying by the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh)…Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to others

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The Quran in Context

3696176326_e1fe5d8d04_thumb[1]The Quran is a guide to social progress established in a time when there was little freedom of choice, equality or social justice in the ancient Arabian world. The terms by which many of the ideas of justice are based are very much established beliefs within Islam and throughout the progressive world. Early Muslims were problem solvers. To Muslims, the Quran is considered a revelation from God and historically a great piece of literature.

Over time dogma, culture and traditions have over taken the progressive nature of the Quranic experience in the time of  Prophet Muhammad and his contemporaries. Whereas it once resolved social, political and economic  issues; dogma , contrary to the Islamic teaching has changed the direction of  contemporary  Islam .  It has become the tool of regressive and conservative mindsets in portraying the teachings as expressions of force and contempt.

Early Muslims following the teachings of Islam were explorer and problem solvers.  They expanded their world through knowledge as well as conquest, spreading the message, not through forced conversations but through the experience of Islam and social justice.  They endeavored to explore and obtain knowledge through early proto scientific concepts and the progressive nature of the insatiable need to understand their world. It was through that experience that early leaders supported the collection, preservation and expansion of knowledge.

In modern times those ideas have been set aside  in the service of political and dogmatic applications . In essence it has stifled the Muslim world and set its progressive nature back 1500 years.

The Quran is clear in its direction to the degree of establishing the need for independent ideas, questions and applications of that knowledge and understanding.  Any challenge beyond dogma is met with traditional and cultural popular expectations and understanding that those  customs of well known interpretations should never be questioned or reassessed; this in total is a  contradiction to the guidance of the Quran itself.

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The Quran encourages people to think for themselves.

“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.” (Quran 8:22)

“And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned.” (Quran 17:36)

cc54fcea97e9_thumbA thinking population is always dangerous to the status quo, and hence these surahs were set aside and forgotten, replaced instead by unusual sentiment of blindly following those in power [religious or political].  Add to that the notion of a non Arabic speakers unable to read the Quran in Arabic, instead recited by the clergy, and you’ve got a largely ignorant population at the whims of what religious figures teach them about Islam.

The Quran discourages blindly following of the ancestral ways and religious preachers.

“O you who have believed, indeed many of the scholars and the monks devour the wealth of people unjustly and avert [them] from the way of Allah . And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah – give them tidings of a painful punishment.” (Quran 9:34)

“And they (the common people) will say: O our Sustainer! Behold, we paid heed unto our leaders and our great men, and it is they who have led us astray from the right path!” (Quran, 33:67)

“And if you obey most of those upon the earth, they will mislead you from the way of Allah . They follow not except assumption, and they are not but falsifying.” (Quran 6:116)

It might surprise anyone who has never read the Quran, even some Muslims that the Quran discourages blind following and the dubious nature of religious preachers.  A religion that was only devised to control and cheat people would never expose religious preachers like this, for it would be against their very interests, As Mark Twain also once said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

The Quran promotes pluralism and explains that there are multiples paths to God. We walk our paths as we endeavor to reach the same destination.

“Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)

“And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them 38cb0829fab92565bbf4d9dd17ec62eb_thumbto Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.” (Quran 29:69)

Sectarianism thrives in the belief that there is only one way and that way is the only way to reach God. But, By acknowledging that there are multiple paths, the Quran disavows the very belief of only “one right way” to God.

The Quran supports freedom of conscious, choice and speech.

“And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?” (Quran 10:99)

In other words, if God had willed us all to believe, we would. Instead he gave us free will, to think for ourselves and make our own choices.

“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Quran 2:256)

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Despite laws of apostasy and blasphemy, the Quran supports total freedom of speech and expression. Otherwise, there would be no need for insistence of thinkers and and the process of free will.

The Quran asks Muslims to be socially aware and to be activist for the rights which should be assessed as for all humans.

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” (Quran 4:135)

The Quran expresses the need for social justice and the mandate in fighting oppression. Islam is not a religion that only gives you dogma to follow blindly, in return for some grand reward of paradise. Instead it expects one to use intellect and resourcefulness to help those less fortunate and vulnerable in society and to do all this in the pursuit of  justice.

The Quran establishes that faith is only the beginning on the path. It isn’t the end of the journey.

“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?” (Quran 29:2)

One’s actions are relevant. Thus, the things we do today and in this life, matter. Surah 29:2 is very specific. So many religious individual (Muslims as well) put all their energy in a list of “things to images_thumbdo” or “to believe.” While putting no action behind those thoughts. For many religion has become just a list to enter “paradise” without any genuine effect.

Believing in values of truth, justice and honesty are not enough. One must live those values and put them into action.

The surahs are the concepts in which many Muslims throughout history established their societies and resolved their social,political and economic issues. These are the reasons which guide everyday life, beyond the expectations of social pressures. These values and ideas go beyond dogma alone. They are defining factors in history and the social progress by which Muslims have based their expectations and their human experience.

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Modesty and Hijab in Islam

by A.N. Bayat

 

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“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their khimar over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” – (Quran 24:31)

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be knownmali-dance-inside and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (Quran 33:59)

Islamic law requires women to be modest, not just in deeds but in their words. Modesty is more than just covering the hair. Does it even mean a woman should cover her hair? Let’s look for a moment at what the Quran says about that specifically.

The Quran says a woman should “look down and guard her private parts.” Here is thekaro-tribe-woman-650631-xl one that always gets people in trouble. “adornments” Meaning what? The same thing it means today…the body parts. Women wore cloaks (khimars) as a common practice. It was practical to protect from the elements. The Quran says for a woman to take that cloak and to cover the chest (bosom) and only show her [body] to her husband …bosom? doesn’t say anything about hair.

If most people understood the context they’d understand that slavery was not only practiced in the ancient world but common. “…that which their right hand possess (slaves)…

33:59 is literally referring to covering to protect from a dangerous environment. Life was hard in Arabia for women, even when given equality. It was lawless and dangerous. Thus women covering was also given for their protection to conceal their bodies from strangers as to not draw attention to themselves.

67a250fb-f759-4c84-92cf-ca8b50ad3621_16x9_788x442But, nowhere in these passages does it say a woman should wear loose clothing or cover her hair. Women already by practice covered part of their hair. Nowhere does it say a woman should not show any parts of her hair. So where do we get these ideas that women should wear loose clothing, cover all parts of their body, from head to toe  and show nothing at all?

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The practical application in modern Muslim countries varies with a combination of individual and social taste. The Taliban require full burqas (covering everything, including a mesh for the eyes), while the more secular governments of Turkey and Tunisia once banned headscarves in public buildings (the bans have since been lifted following the Islamist ascension).

The head covering is interpreted as a symbol of male domination by most critics and by many Muslim women, who fight for the right to dress as they please.

“And women of post-menstrual age who have no desire for marriage – there is no blame upon them for putting aside their outer garments [but] not displaying adornment. But to modestly muslim_408490810refrain [from that] is better for them. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Quran 24:60)

This is usually interpreted as meaning that only old women are allowed to forgo the head covering. But, once again “adornment” in reference does not refer to the hair, but the one thing that is said should be covered…the bosom. The Quran does not say the “veil” is a face covering or a head covering. The very specific aspect of covering which is pointed out is the [bosom].

It is a choice given to women. Many wear it as a symbol of their faith. It is not obligatory. Although many scholars may say that it is and interpret it so, the fact in Islam is that Muslims do not have a hierarchy therefore in secular countries where jurisprudence is not interpreted to cover, a woman has more choices about covering and not covering if it is not secular law.

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Touareg of the Sahel and Sahara from Mali, and  Niger to Libya and Nigeria

Is there pressure in the Islamic community for women to cover? The pressure can either be subtle or pronounced.

Just like in Western countries, incidence of rape justified by the choices women make concerning their clothing is too common in Eastern Muslim majority countries as well. Thus it stands to reason much of this is influenced by patriarchal societies and their interpretations to obtain and maintain control over women. That is not and was not clearly the intention of Islam or modesty.

Much of modern interpretations of modesty go against many of the mandates of Islam :

“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the tumblr_m9mxzhLjps1rx8i7eo1_400most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.”- (Quran 2:256)

What does this say about the accepted culture of Muslims that both pressure their version of modesty upon women and the accepted interpretations of hijab?

Bukhari (6:321) – Muhammad is asked whether it is right for a young woman to leave her house without a veil. He replies, “She should cover herself with the veil of her companion.”

Bukhari (60:282) – After Muhammad issued the command (Quran 24:31) for women to cover themselves, the women responded by tearing up sheets to cover their faces.

Abu Dawud (32:4092) – The Apostle of Allah… said: “O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands” This was narrated by Aisha.

Abu Dawud (2:641) – The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Allah does not accept the prayer of a woman who has reached puberty unless she wears a veil.

Bukhari (52:250) – [The Prophet said] “It is not permissible for a man to be alone with a woman, and no lady should travel except with a Muhram (i.e. her husband or a person whom she cannot marry in any case for ever; e.g. her father, brother, etc.).” – Neither is a woman allowed to travel by herself.

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From the Iranian Chador or Manteaux and Rysary to the Saudi Abaya and hijab

Many proponents of the hijab will point to these as well in interpreting the overall obligation of hijab (veil). In ancient times a veil or covering was a cloak or khimar ( a loosely based piece of cloth that could be pulled over the shoulders and hair…a shawl),

In the Quran the “veil” is also referred as a [partition] in a room to separate one from another,

“And when you recite the Qur’an, We put between you and those who do not believe in the Hereafter a veil.” (Quran 17:45) (partition)

“Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment.” (Quran 2:7) (separation)

“And between them will be a veil (partition), and on [its] elevations are men who recognize all by their mark. And they call out to the companions of Paradise, “Peace be upon you.” They have not [yet] entered it, but they long intensely.” (Quran 7:46)

040701_afghanBurqas_hmed_2p.grid-6x2In Afghanistan,  surah 33:53 is used to justify imposing the burqa.

“O you who have believed, do not enter the houses of the Prophet except when you are permitted for a meal, without awaiting its readiness. But when you are invited, then enter; and when you have eaten, disperse without seeking to remain for conversation. Indeed, that [behavior] was troubling the Prophet, and he is shy of [dismissing] you. But Allah is not shy of the truth. And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a veil (partition). That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not [conceivable or lawful] for you to harm the Messenger of Allah or to marry his wives after him, ever. Indeed, that would be in the sight of Allah an enormity.” (Quran 33:53)

Within context this is a sign of respect, to the wife of another not as a sign of oppression or a sign to cover women.

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A political statement in hijab for women in Iran-Chador and Rysary

This is not to say that a woman doesn’t have a right to choose her symbolism of Islam. It is to say that to cover the hair is a choice and to cover overall is a choice given to women when they reach puberty. If it is not the law of the land in which one exists, the choice to do so is symbolic, personal and  individual to each woman in her time. In many cultures young, prepubescent girls are forced  to cover their hair even though it is clear in the Quran and hadiths that it is  not a mandate  or obligatory in Islam.


Every woman’s journey to the hijab is personal and unique, but many of those paths will have some similarities. For some women, the hijab may not be a conscious decision, which is why so many struggle with it. For others, wearing the hijab is a choice made through a woman’s own thought process and a reflection of her relationship with God. And of course there are others who may choose not to wear the hijab at all and risk facing judgment from men and women despite the very personal nature of their actions.

This perspective limits a woman’s ability to make choices about the hijab that are reflective of what she truly wants. Instead a women are made to fulfill certain social expectations that satisfy what others want for them. That is what the hijab has become in Islam, not always, necessarily a 506812703symbol of faith, but a social expectation or indicator of a woman’s level of belief.

What we are questioning here is not a woman’s right to choose, but the forced imposition of covering of the hair, when Quran is clear.

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The Burden of Muses

Zoroastrianism affirms EqualityI have to renew myself periodically. The curse of a writer. Writing isn’t enough until I find my truth; connect and expel all those feelings and thoughts. That’s why venting to you when I am being honest , truly honest and bearing my soul, not hiding behind some impenetrable wall, it makes me feel better, whether the release is anger or love.

It is when I am not genuine that I struggle the most. when I would lie or hide that I love you for fear It would push you away. For everything I say when I really say so much, it’s not really what is in my heart, I’m not being honest when I hide part of me; then I do doubt, struggle and hurt , because what I am really fighting is trusting my friend, to not run and hide or be here. In not being fair or honest with you or with me. What I am truly feeling and the things I obscure. by fear and control, because I feel there are things about me you don’t really like, so I shove all my feelings down. I let fear and control keep me from speaking  my mind. I is not your fault. It is mine. What I think I am feeling at the moment isn’t what I feel. It’s my own fear speaking.

The real fear is revealing too much of myself and feeling exposed. When I am honest with you in the most open way, you feel no anger , confusion or pain;  only the love, affection and trust and maybe that scared little girl that doesn’t believe-that anything matters or I am worthy of love.

at all—

I’m always too worried of what will you think… always too willing to edit my heart;  for fear that it doesn’t matter to you…you tell me not to be afraid to speak my mind with you, to just say what I feel.

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Everlasting Connection

by A.N. Bayat 2009

 

I’m not your forever

I’m your every once in

a while, when my heart

is weary and my body

aches and longs for your

affection, I can no

longer oppose you

 

I am your occasional

when my soul can no

longer breathe and

I can’t escape; when

the essence of me evokes

that taste of your lips

when it lures me closer at the

sight of your smile; when it

pulls you around me,and it

appeals for your touch

 

however I tear at our unending

bond and rip apart at your ardor

no matter how far, I can no longer

combat or build enough walls

 

My heart is continuous

this touch is for now

My ache is undying

these walls have obscured

 

All is ephemeral and

life is provisional

but my vow is persistent

even when my body

is diminished, you’ll

have my assurance that

my love is perpetual. 

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