Jobs @ MG
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.
carved from glaciers, his breath arctic,
he froze women in his embrace.
His wife thawed into stony water,
her old age a clear evaporation.
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
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
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,
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
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