Extract from Francisco de Miranda’s destroyed manuscript, A Catalogue of Curls:

“A seaman told me of a letter the persian alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan n sent his lover, the obscene poet Abu -Nuwas, the “master of curls”. The older Jabir instructed Nuwas to reply with a love letter composed thus:

…on waking up in in the middle of the night in a sweat from a dream about our lovemaking, arise carefully from your bed. Be careful not to disturb the sheets. In the light of the moon or your flickering oil lamp observe the shifting shadows of your fallen pubic hairs that lie trembling on your sheets. Copy these curls as closely as you can with black ink on a piece of parchment. Take great care to maintain the proportions of distance and scale between the hairs while copying this script. These relationships are as essential as the shape of each hair. If a wind were to blow while you were writing and disturb the placement of these characters, please stop immediately. If the bark of alarmed dogs or the sudden morning wail of the Mullah were to jerk your hand paint this out and correct your mistake. This is essential. We will have to try and interpret what we have. As we have discussed, language is too abstract to express our intimacy and I feel this may provide us with a key, a trace, a clue. A window through which I may enter you.

What is unclear is whether this methodology – these instructions conveyed from poet to alchemist, were actually carried out. Were these chance scripts carried by the beduin across boiling deserts? Did they find their destination? Did Jabir attempt to translate them? Were these translations within his known corpus or are they yet to be found? Perhaps the translations were never written down, only spoken or thought. Some claim that he ate the artifacts so they may act upon him from within, others claim that he burnt them and dissolved the ashes in Sal Ammoniac, combining the solution with his own hair to create a new substance. Still others suggest that any attempt to translate these poems would have been to mistake their very function.”

excerpt from ‘Alif 2010