Turkmen national poet Makhtymkuli
We drank again and again. New guests arrived and joined the party. The drinking went on; the eating slowed down. It was a bit like being at a college fraternity house on a week night, though the food was much better. I was about ready to bow out while still conscious, but didn't know the correct procedure. Someone brought in a dutar, the fretless stringed instrument of Central Asia, and Mr. Khodir strummed while one of the new arrivals, a young Turkmen artist with dark good looks called Rachman, stood to recite poetry for us. He introduced a poem by the eighteenth-century Turkmen national poet Makhtymkuli, whose statue is in the central park I had been directed to a hundred times on my first visit.
"Makhtymkuli's poems," Rachman said, "recount the dreams and visions he experienced. He often had visions when he drank too much."
No wonder he's the Turkmen national poet, I thought to myself.
Guvanch said how stupid it was that the Soviets had shut off the road to Makhtymkuli's grave all these years simply because it is in Iran. "We could not even visit the grave of our national poet because it was across the border!"
Yusup said, "The dutar is the soul of the Turkmen, the Teke rug is the pride of the Turkmen, and the Akhal-Teke horse is the wings of the-Turkmen!"
"Makhtymkuli wrote that?" I asked.
"That is what kept Turkmen culture alive under the Soviets," he answered vaguely.
I was confused, which was not surprising after a dozen shots of vodka. Rachman explained that Makhtymkuli composed his poems in Farsi, the language of Persia, which at that time was also the literary language of the Turkmen—the Turkmen having no written language of their own, and using the Arabic, Farsi, and Cyrillic alphabets over the course ol their history. Then he began to recite from memory Makhtymkuli's long and extraordinary poem of spiritual epiphany called "The Revelation." I am able to reprint it here only because Rachman offered to translate it into English and deliver it to me via Guvanch:
By night once, while I lay asleep,
Four horsemen came. "Arise!" they said,
"For you must know that they are come—
The Enlightened Ones—and you shall see them!"
When those four people I beheld,
My brain did burn, my heart did tremble.
Two holy madmen also there told me:
"Don't tarry, son. Make haste, be gone!"
We sat, then two young saints appeared
With tearful eyes and praying.
Six men on foot came, saying,
"Hu, The man will come now: see him!"
Came four more horsemen all in green,
With rods of green and rearing stallions.
They said, "The circle is too small,
For we are many—set it wider!"
And in the distance sixty riders loomed.
"Muhammed," said they, and proceeded.
They greeted all, inquired their health in turn,
And said, "Wait not, proceed to yon great place."
Ali—for he it was, they said—he held me by the hand.
He dragged the pallet on which I sat;
I comprehended not; he poured a substance on me.
"The time is passing," said Ali. "Enjoy it."
I asked Haidar about them, one by one.
"That is the Prophet, be not alien to him.
That is Eslim Hoja, that one Baby Zuryat,
And that—Veys-al-Karani, you should know.
That Enlightened One is Bahauddin.
That one is Zengi Baba, such a famous man.
Those close together are the Four Companions.
Ask anything your heart desires to know."
Two young sheiks also present said:
"We ask that this young man be blest."
The thirty prophets and the companion thirty
Are here. This you must know, they said.
And now the Prophet makes his call: Oh, Ali,
Oh, Eslim Hoja, Oh, Baba Salman,
Oh, Abu Bakr Siddiq, Oh, Omar, Oh, Osman,
Fulfill the wishes of this fine young man."
Eslim and Baba Salman to the jar were called;
The glass was dipped into the drink.
I lay there swooning. I was told
To see all things in heaven and on earth.
Turned into wind, I hurtled to the very depths
Of earth; and then the vault of heaven did see.
"In this great world go and behold the Lord
And see Him for yourself," they said.
Whate'er I thought about was mine.
Whate'er I looked on, He was there.
In peaceful sleep I felt their spittle on my face
(This was their blessing.) "Now arise," they said.
The Prophet said, "Companions, pray go on,
And all give this young man your benediction."
He ordered the four horsemen, "Take him hence,
Return him to the place from whence you brought him."
Makhtymkuli awoke, and opened wide his eyes.
What thought had passed all through his head!
His mouth foamed like a lustful camel.
"Go, son," they said, "and may the Lord be with you."
Sacred Horses: The Memoirs of a Turkmen Cowboy by Jonathan Maslow