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CELEBRATING CREATIVE EXPRESSION AT BAYLOR SINCE 1966

Periaktoi Writing Post

Volume 56
Issue 1

Single Visual Art Post

  • Essay
Ibn Sina
Penelope Kwun
 
Bred from wealth, bed to wealth, Ibn Sina never blistered from the Abbasid sands grinding skin into tattered flesh, never curled his back, bowing to the sun and steeping to the fields as fruitless harvesting yielded naught a day prostrate in the shade, never dug his fingers into his stomach, cupping his hands over the taunt skin stretched between his ribs to feel something more than a vacuous pit, yet he suffered from a frantic mind. Hallucinogens tormented his waking days, simmering below his skin, conjuring fits of flailing arms and thrashing fingernails, carving out apertures for the demons to seep out.
 
At his cries, mother diligently strode to the wailing child, sliding slender fingers around the gashes along his arm. As she brushed back a lock of hair and traced her fingernail along his profile, she whispered her proverb: Allah expunge the demon. Restore my faith.
 
Demon ichor pulsed along his arms and spilled onto the ground. Heaps of the revolting liquid crawled out of his gashes as his mother twisted the raw, mangled skin on his arm. Pain revivable yet uncountable escaped in moans and shrieks as mother continued to wring out the wound. Allah expunge the demon. Restore her faith.
 
Among his father’s scrolls, stowed behind manuscripts boasting civil piety, Ibn Sina found those esoteric Ismalian words, written in hasty deliberation. These scripts quelled his restless blood, pouring indecipherable jargon into those veins once bloated with bile. He perused the texts until comprehension lingered on the peripheral of palpability, and when letters became words and words became meaning, his demons mollified.
 
The following years, childhood became a vicarious reality, perceived through the study of al-Musta, a servant’s child often found meandering the household, expelling evil by his very footsteps.

“Why do they hide from you?”
 
“Who?” The word escaped the boy like a reflex, an instinct to respond instead of crumpling to the ground.
 
“The Devil and his cohorts.”
 
Al-Musta turned his head and placidly walked toward the other end of the hallway. If not for the action itself, Ibn Sina would have mistaken his petrified retreat for a simple miscommunication. After their conversing, the demons must have swallowed al-Musta whole; Ibn Sina never again witnessed his purging light.
 
Without the child to assign devout study, he turned to the great academics. He stifled his lurking madness with Eastern mathematical theories, Aristotelian logic, and myths of great gods living in their flawed pantheon. He mastered philosophy and medicine, surpassing his teachers. They called him a revolutionary prodigy with a mind as bright as Allah’s light and a hand so driven with precocious ability.
 
Afshana could not contain his brilliance, neither could Bukhara. Graduating from his regional education, Ibn Sina fled to Baghdad as a council to the king, mustering the fortitude to outlast his demons. While he gawked at the volumes and architecture of the city, the people pulling and pushing through buildings, the heart of the city, pulsing, the soul, in the spiced air and bountiful knowledge, he was lost. He was just a boy, a renowned scholar, a sixteen year old virtuoso, a servant to whatever master present. He could still feel the fire beneath his skin, rattling his bones and stoking his unrest.
 
Yet, as he cradled the king’s temples at the crook of his elbow, administering a treatment to his thin lips, his hands were steady.
 
“Ibn Sina, my recovery goes well.”
 
“I am glad to hear this.”
 
“At your hands the abroshia was cast down as a mortal's remedy. My doctors, but not one can assume that noble title, and yet a boy— you, sir— you may.”
 
“Of your decree.”
 
“Sun of Allah, they call you. So must I.”
 
Maybe his fevered ramblings were true. Perhaps, he was the Sun of Allah, but one that burns with fury, one that rampages with boiled blood. Perhaps the light of God instilled unbridled energy, expanding his body until blood burst out.
 
He traipsed to his bedroom, thoughts abundant like his books, splayed on the floor, spilling from every available ledge. This time his studies were abandoned as his back broke the surface of the sleeping mat. He thought of mother.
 
“Come closer to the fire.” He could hear mother’s voice, her sillouete appearing under his eyelids.
 
“But it’s hot.”
 
“Do not disobey me serpent, for your nature is transparent when you do.”
 
“Mother I am confused.”
 
“Best not take a language so familiar when I would learn to despise it, but assured, I will learn to despise it.”
 
“It hurts, the fire, it burns. Mercy, mercy, please.”
 
“Allah expunge the demon. Restore my faith.”
 
Her conviction appeared so vehement, her faith so unwavering, that the demons anchored inside him, growing tusks and fangs and claws. The more she charred his flesh or emptied his veins, the more vivid they spawned. How could this be light? How could gnarled, rotten-toothed monsters with forked tongues and rabid eyes be Allah’s blessing?
 
The dark unraveled beyond himself, expanding, expanding, until it was everything. He fell. The mat cushioned below his back, but he fell deeper still.
 
Sleeping, they spoke his name. Ibn Sina. He stirred, opening his eyes.
 
His hollow chamber, darkening by gradients, smelled of parchment. Books snaked around the room, stacked high enough to cover the fireplace. Peeling his back from the mat, he twisted to eye a draft of his medicine book, Canon. Irony forced a heaving chuckle out of his dry lips. The sickest one designs to write a medicine book. Like a prophet intent on writing laws.
 
The king would recover and leave Ibn Sina to his herbs and calculations. He must be careful. The issue of his nature should remain serpentine, and if the temp of godly ambition muddles his teachings into lustfull projections of Suns and scholars, may those demons be choked from his lungs, may Allah restore his faith.