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By Agha Shahid Ali

My ancestor, a man 
of Himalayan snow, 
came to Kashmir from Samarkand, 
carrying a bag 
of whale bones: 
heirlooms from sea funerals. 
His skeleton 
carved from glaciers, his breath arctic, 
he froze women in his embrace. 
His wife thawed into stony water, 
her old age a clear evaporation. 
This heirloom, 
his skeleton under my skin, passed 
from son to grandson, 
generations of snowmen on my back. 
They tap every year on my window, 
their voices hushed to ice. 
No, they won't let me out of winter, 
and I've promised myself, 
even if I'm the last snowman, 
that I'll ride into spring 
on their melting shoulders. 
from The Half-Inch Himalayas 

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: Urdu, 
bloody at his fingertips, 
is still fine on his lips, 
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, smiles, 
quotes a Mir line. I complete 
the couplet. 
He wraps my kilo of ribs. 
I give him the money. The change 
clutters our moment of courtesy, 
our phrases snapping in mid-syllable, 
Ghalib's ghazals left unrhymed. 
--from The Half-Inch Himalayas 

from In Search of Evanescence
It was a year of brilliant water 
in Pennsylvania that final summer 
seven years ago, the sun's quick reprints 
in my attache case: those students 
of mist have drenched me with dew, 
I'm driving 
away from that widow's house, my eyes open 
to a dream of drowning. But even 
when I pass --in Ohio-- the one exit 
to Calcutta, I don't know I've begun 
mapping America, the city limits 
of Evanescence now everywhere. It 
was a year of brilliant water, Phil, 
such a cadence of dead seas at each turn: 
so much refused to breathe in those painted 
reflections, trapped there in ripples of hills: 
a woman climbed the steps to Acoma, 
vanished into the sky. In the ghost towns 
of Arizona, there were charcoal tribes 
with desert voices, among their faces 
always the last speaker of a language. 
And there was always thirst: a train taking me 
from Bisbee, that copper landscape with bones, 
into a twilight with no water. Phil, 
I never told you where I'd been these years, 
swearing fidelity to anyone. 
Now there's only regret: I didn't send you 
my routes of Evanescence. You never wrote. 
--from A Nostalgist's Map of America 

Tribute: Agha Shahid Ali
Agha Shahid Ali 
Surprisingly cheerful person 
The Floating post office 
Dream of Glass Bangles
Donít Ask Me for That Love Again Read
Kashmir without a post office Read
After the Last Sky Read
Ghazal for Daniel Hall Read
Farewell for Patricia O'Neill Read

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