Ramadan Diaries, Day Thirty-One

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Or Thirty-Two? It is Eid today. The discrepancy between which day on the lunar calendar it falls doesn’t phase me. Contentiousness about these details—like deciding whether Christmas is on the 24th or 25th of December, or the 7th of January—feel like squabbles I can’t be addled with, not today; at some point it is Christmas, for those who have constructed a narrative of Christmas.

It’s surprising that no one has concocted a Muslim astrological text of critical and mass appeal. There is still widespread vexation between the pagan zodiac and the revered moon. The lacuna between this furls my brow in para-theological concern. It feels somewhat arbitrary to argue over what is the most important star or planet, and to what degree it is allowed to hold sway over stories of human life.

Anyway, I decide to go where I am invited, and today the festivities will be performed at the wholesome, food-full family home of an Egyptian friend. There are flowers to buy and a dress to pick out. I pick out something aesthetically complex, and another simple, respectively; then I start cleaning my apartment.

I am standing above an assortment of dishes, gloves snapped on firmly in preparation for autopsy. Approximately two arm’s lengths away stands the only tree in outward view of this small kitchen window. The tree’s branches lightly titter in the wind and its million tiny leaves wave at an unknown recipient. The tree pollen is high this year, historically high, and I blink my eyes a few times to register the connection between generalized watery sinuses and this lone, seemingly innocent tree. As I wash plates and forks I decide to contemplate it in greater detail, outside of its tree brethren’s allergy seduction or even its casual proximity to my window. I wish to bring this tree to view on its own terms.

It isn’t enough that humans have barely begun to comprehend the depth of animal life, we can’t even be trusted to know vegetable and mineral life in much detail either. Names and classifications aside, the spiritual lives of plants are far too Gordian for our distracted minds to settle on. We can’t seem to grasp the patience it takes, for example, for a tree to grow. We confuse stillness with passivity, dulling the otherwise thrilling experience of gaining branch and leaf parts. We are so solidly booked, stupefyingly busy, and jet-set speedy that the thought of cultivating tree-like patience has not occurred to us. Beyond a single tree, the interaction between whole ecosystems of trees, wherein a large gathering can literally change the weather, is simply too far outside the purview of our capacity to understand.

I look on at this tree, of whose plant codification and climate engagement patterns I remain ignorant, and decide that now is a good time to absorb some kind of lesson about slowing down to grow up.

At her single-family home in a tree-lined street in Jamaica, Queens, Mrs. K. has made over 100 mahshi or rice-filled grape leaves. The Egyptian ones are small, bite-sized, and incredibly addicting, the aftertaste swooshing between tart and tangy. The cuisine of older cultures is underrated for having reached a bliss point summit earlier in human history.

We eat several courses of food, some prepared on the grill and the rest by oven, stove, or freezer. Eight pairs of hands move between kneading things in the kitchen or tossing other things over the barbecue. They move to and fro between the cooking stations and the family table, where the talk is flowing.

It feels sumptuous to eat this much in the middle of the day, surrounded by so many warm people. Even water tastes better than usual. From another room I hear someone’s voice trailing, “You feel guilty eating after fasting so long…..” For me it feels less like guilt and more like a stark day-to-night lifestyle transition. The end of one normative routine and the start of another does have some sad thing to it.

It took me nearly two hours on multiple subway and railway legs to get out here, so the schedule demands of the rest of my day back in Brooklyn seem moot. I make a few calls and get out of what I can, and accept today as an unrecognized “Muslim Christmas.”

Back home in bed, I read Lorca’s poem “Christmas on the Hudson,” written in New York in December 1929.

Translation by Ben Belitt.
An unplanned solemnity hushes over the room, and my eyes read over and over again the line, “A planet alone in a heaven alone” (“El mundo solo por el cielo solo”):

All night I stood on the gangplanks of suburbs,
letting blood on the stucco of blueprints
and worked with the sailors who battened the tatters of canvas.
Am now at the murmuring mouth of the river, empty-handed.
What matter if, prompt to the minute,
the newly-born shake out the branch of their veins,
or the offspring of vipers uncoiling on boughs,
calm the blood-thirsty voyeurs of nakedness.
What matters is only: the void. A planet alone. An outlet of harbor.

Lo que importa es esto: hueco. Mundo solo. Desembocadura. 

The best poets of the 1920s predicted war, voids, and snakes in trees. They were right.