Friday, 18 July 2014

Agha Shahid Ali's Poems

Postcard from Kashmir 

Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox, 
my home a neat four by six inches. 
I always loved neatness. 
Now I hold the half-inch Himalayas in my hand. 
This is home. 
And this the closest I'll ever be to home. 
When I return, the colors won't be so brilliant, 
the Jhelum's waters so clean, so ultramarine.
 My love so overexposed.
 And my memory will be a little out of focus, 
it in a giant negative,
 black and white, still undeveloped. 
A Dream of Glass Bangles
 Those autumns
 my parents slept warm
 in a quilt studded with pieces of mirrors
 On my mother's arms were bangles
 like waves of frozen rivers
 and at night after the prayers 
as she went down to her room
 I heard the faint sound of ice breaking
 on the staircase breaking years
 later into winter our house surrounded
 by men pulling icicles for torches off the roofs
 rubbing them on the walls 
till the cement's darkening 
red set the tips of water on fire the air
 a quicksand of snow as my father
 stepped out and my mother
 inside the burning house a widow
 smashing the rivers on her arms

 The Season of the Plains

  In Kashmir where the year
 has four clear seasons,
 my mother spoke of her childhood
 in the plains of Lucknow,
 and of that season in itself,
 the monsoon, 
when Krishna’s flute is heard
 on the shores of the Jamuna. 
She played old records
 of the Banaras thumri-singers,
 Siddheshwari and Rasoolan,
 their voices longing,
 when the clouds gather, 
for that invisible blue god. 
Separation can’t be borne 
when the rains come:
 this every lyric says. 
While children run out into the alleys,
 soaking their utter summer,
 messages pass between lovers.
 Heer and Ranjha and others of legends, 
their love forbidden,
 burned incense all night,
 waiting for answers. 
My mother hummed Heer’s lament
 but never told me
 if she also burned sticks of jasmine that,
kept raising soft necks of ash.
 I imagined each neck
 leaning on the humid air. 
She only said:
 The monsoons never cross
 the mountains into Kashmir.

 A Butcher 

 In this lane 
near Jama Masjid, 
where he wraps 
kilos of meat
 in sheets of paper. 
the ink of the news
 stains his knuckles. 
 The script is wet
 in his palms:
 bloody at his fingertips,
 is still fine on his lips, 
my well-fed skin the language
 polished smooth by knives on knives.
 He hacks the festival goats,
 throws their skin to dogs.
 I smile and quote a Ghalib line;
 he completes the couplet, 
quotes a Mir line.
 I complete the couplet.
 He wraps my kilo of ribs
 I give him the money.
 The change clutters
 on our moment of courtesy
 our phrases snapping 
in mid-syllable
 Ghalib's ghazal's 
left unrhymed.

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