The Nightmares of Sidi Yahya Tadulsi – A Poem

By J.A. Miller

O Ward!  O Norman !

From across five hundred years

I heard of your woes

It comes from having a patron you know

I had a patron

Powerful and rich, a big shot in Timbuktu

And beyond

On the payroll I wrote jurisprudence, history, poetry

Influencing society in the city

And beyond

But argent fetters bound me

(I heard you call it tenure)

And nightmares came to me, needling and buzzing

(like your tormentors)

Sleep came not

My family wearied of my affliction

“Sidi Yahya!” they cried, “What is to be done?”

But I had to feed them, provide shelter

They were so many

I strove to tame my rampant nightmares

But could not

Vorant, they grew stronger

Until fed up

I began to trade on my own account

Became a merchant

Bought and sold

Slabs of salt, dried pomegranates across the desert

To and from the Maghreb                                                                                                   

But never ceased writing jurisprudence, history, poetry

The fetters loosened then fell away

My family fed, the nightmares vanished

I left my patron

Became a scholar-trader

Sorry boss

Centuries later the conundrum is unchanged

Bread and integrity

My brothers!

I wish that you may tame your nightmares

-Sidi Yahya was a sixteenth-century Muslim scholar in Timbuktu who banished the “apparitions” afflicting him in the manner described.

-J.A Miller is an activist living in the United States. She contributed this poem to 

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