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Agha Shahid Ali

Learning Urdu

From a district near Jammu,
(Dogri stumbling through his Urdu)
he comes, the victim of a continent broken
in two in nineteen forty-seven.
He mentions the minced air he ate
while men dissolved in alphabets
of blood, in syllables of death, of hate.

'I only remember half the word
that was my village. The rest I forget.
My memory belongs to the line of blood
across which my friends dissolved
into bitter stanzas of some dead poet.'

He wanted me to sympathize. I couldn't,
I was only interested in the bitter couplets
which I wanted him to explain. He continued,

'And I who knew Mir backwards, every
couplet from the Diwan-e-Ghalib saw poetry

[...] Read more

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Of Light

At dawn you leave. The river wears its skin of light.
And I traced love’s loss to the origin of light.

“I swallow down the goodbyes I won’t get to use.”
At grief’s speed she waves from a palanquin of light.

My book’s been burned? Send me the ashes, so I can say:
I’ve been sent the phoenix in a coffin of light.

From History tears learn a slanted understanding
of the human face torn by blood’s bulletin of light.

It was a temporal thought. Well, it has vanished.
Will Promethus commit the mortal sin of light?

She said, “My name is icicles coming down from it…”
Did I leave it, somewhere, in a margin of light?

When I go off alone, as if listening for God,
there’s absolutely nothing I can win of light.

[...] Read more

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