Hotel Poetry

Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land—
There is no sugar in the promised land.
Why must the bars turn neon now when, Love,
I’m already drunk in your capitalist land?
If home is found on both sides of the globe,
home is of course here—and always a missed land.
The hour’s come to redeem the pledge (not wholly?)
in Fate’s “Long years ago we made a tryst” land.
Clearly, these men were here only to destroy,
a mosque now the dust of a prejudiced land.
Will the Doomsayers die, bitten with envy,
when springtime returns to our dismissed land?
The prisons fill with the cries of children.
Then how do you subsist, how do you persist, Land?
“Is my love nothing for I’ve borne no children?”
I’m with you, Sappho, in that anarchist land.
A hurricane is born when the wings flutter …
Where will the butterfly, on my wrist, land?
You made me wait for one who wasn’t even there
though summer had finished in that tourist land.
Do the blind hold temples close to their eyes
when we steal their gods for our atheist land?
Abandoned bride, Night throws down her jewels
so Rome—on our descent—is an amethyst land.
At the moment the heart turns terrorist,
are Shahid’s arms broken, O Promised Land?

Agha Shahid Ali wrote this ghazal, titled as “Land” for Christopher Merrill. It was published in 2001.
For myself, it remained an unfulfilled dream to meet Agha in person. When I joined the International Writing Program in August, one of the things on my prime agenda was to speak to Chris about his closest friend, Agha Shahid Ali.
Agha Shahid Ali, an underrated Kashmiri-American poet, was introduced to me by a very precious soul. In any way, for South Asians, ghazal remains a significant inspiration. Despite will and effort, due to numerous reasons, I couldn’t record a full-length interview on Agha Shahid Ali, but, of course, I will write in detail about how they transformed each other in this long companionship.

Fortunately, despite all fixed-up meetings, readings and hectic schedule, Chris managed to read three poems to me including a ghazal written in correspondence to the aforementioned ghazal which he, of course, dedicated to Agha Shahid Ali. These poems were recorded in a hotel room hence the title ‘Hotel Poetry’ as it was for previous recordings. The recording is embedded within this post or could be watched on my YouTube Channel i.e., Ramsha Ashraf or could be tracked down from Christopher Merrill’s official website i.e., http://www.christophermerrillbooks.com/

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Bari Ammi…

Darkness was so intense that night. It is same tonight in a different setting. Exactly after two years. Pretty much on the edge of falling night, I am counting moments. I was hurt then on the inaccuracy of my assumptions, I am hurt today on my optimism. You would never be able to know but I had counted every single second of that night. I was sure that I would see you in the morning with your color and tasteless breakfast, using your hands intelligently, giving instructions either to Ammi or to someone else. I could never take the responsibility to feed you. The thought that you had to rely on someone else for your food was too real for me to accept. You know me, I was a perennial illusionist, a coward. I was sure I would see you breathing and smiling, that was why I returned back home that night but, I swear, I had not slept for a moment. The fear stayed there laughing at my restless state. It mocked me for every single cigarette I had burnt. It ridiculed me for my unexpected tears.  The morning was not far away. Morning! It knew how to fulfill expectations of others and it did. How cruel…

The guilt passes through my bones like the cold wind of that November. I  think it wasn’t your death which made me the way I have become, it was my displacement which  affected me the most. You see, how selfish I am. Ultimately, it isn’t about your not being here. It is about my not feeling at home, wherever I go, whatever I do. I feel at the edge of that dark night. Falling down and down…

They stayed with you and prayed for you after you left. I stayed aloof and could never pray. I can’t forget the questions you asked. I can never ignore those inquiring eyes and the paralyzed tongue. Grief is a private matter, I have been told so many times that I feel the guilt when I recall those moments. One thing, I am sure about is your god is cruel and it certainly never loved you. You wasted your midnight, days and evenings worshiping an empty, sick and heartless fellow who didn’t even care to make your last breaths easy for you. The narcissist psychopath.

Two years have passed and I still am standing on the crossroads. I am not waiting for you. I never did. I am just angry with myself for that one night when I left you trusting that your god would play human. I shouldn’t have and I did. Your god will never play human and I will never be able to forgive myself.

“The Edge of Our World”, Waqas Khwaja and Ramsha

cat sniffing

meeting of lips and noses
bats rip darkness apart and lick roses
tongue scratches upon thorns
bleeds roses of menstrual blood
alight with this infusion
a life hidden beneath breathless blades of grass
torn and turned to provide sap for grass blades
we drink each other’s wounds
sip from cuts
long consigned to forgetfulness
opening up again
uncurl and unwind raw coils and cords
taking the pith and string of rawness
to make of it a shirt to wear
court harmonies

sublimate unities
let them bubble
and spill over the sky’s brim
sketch out its own galaxies
lapping up walls of those bubbles
we wait

for the sky to drizzle us with moments of grace
to drink in their suns

their moons

their planets
their flights of kites and swans
their arches and dips of swallow and dove
their rainbows and ravens
matching flights across the curve of seven colors
lifted and pressed by the wind on our backs
wind of manias and melancholies
squalls dark and thunderous
whirled away with them

to the edge of our world
tipped then beyond
the last boundary
beyond all borders and limits
boundaries which exist

only in minds

and veiled from eyes
physical and imaginary

rent in rags and tatters
we sweep past these ripped rags
past the tattered fringe of the universe
and enter the tunnel of timelessness, again
leaving lines of light far behind
in the curl and curve of passageways
light that tangles with the thread

of deceit and conviction it weaves every day
we take up that tangle

and toss it back into the primal rose
that started it all
with its menstrual red
glowing at its core
scarlet red!
that bulging core
projecting its primal rose
that is

both imputation and the surgence of life
unfolding its protuberant flesh to the world with a gush
unfurling in compliment and tribute
a mute

tribute
i and thou
you and me
merged and renewed
silenced and given speech
all at once
together
us

It is difficult by Ramsha

It is difficult

To voice fears in a strange melody

To spend almost all nights

With eyes wide open

To stare a starless, whitewashed, roof

 

It is difficult

To become oblivious of ambulance sirens

To avoid the factory buzzer at five in the afternoon

That camouflages the direct message

With a polite announcement

‘There’s a fake hope for freedom’

Inducing raw pain in sleepless eyes

 

 

It is difficult

To mention the river, the smoke, mixed

With private anxiety and tasteless food.

The sugary fluid one forces down

The throat in the name of Chai.

To leave the memory behind

Of late night chats, body odours,

Of alien friendly sights.

To forget the silent struggle, and,

A constant anticipation of comfort.

 

It is difficult

To move against the wheel of time

While desiring those two days

To last forever.

Holding onto the last impression

Of the self being strong enough

To bear the burden of departure.

 

It is difficult

To come out of dark spheres

To write sleazy poems

About a woman in [a refugee camp,

About another woman

Stuck with the enigmas of youth

About the betrayals committed

Under slogans of freedom

 

It is difficult

To sing a song of self

While one sees and hears nothing

While the day is full of nightmares

While the home starts drowning

Under the mirth of tears.

 

“EXILE IS AN IMPERATIVE” by Ramsha Ashraf

On a glamorous rainy day, a man was shot dead,

in front of a foreign policeman’s local house,

the bullet left a tiny rabbit–hole in the forehead

providing a perfect sight for ghost-story-writers.

 

 

It affected nothing; no one had known the man,

people forgot, most did it in a few hours, but

a few took their time through the blue of days:

alarm for collective pain did not resonate.

 

Guns had taken over, schools were shut down,

food went missing and it wasn’t required as well

in any way the dead needed coffins not edibles.

Life is a comic series of errors; exile being one.

 

Exile is an imperative, fear made them realize.

Blood, bread and dead, a perfect theatricality

and a good cathartic way of pitying others,

not themselves, ones suffering from amnesia.

 

 

Madison Street

After when the old night wraps

and cuddle the tired spring-day

in its arms. People leave

the Madison street for the Downtown weekend charm.

Its loneliness made me lost my way, twice.

I mistook Jefferson for Madison,

walked and walked

until the darkness hit my eyes.

Upon my asking the black boy

who works on the gas-station guided

the way back, dismantling my almost

white-supremacist-belief about blacks

and them being indecent and insensitive.

After getting slapped satisfactorily,

when I stepped on the Madison street,

I thought of you and your aloofness,

however, I knew the thought would die

after I enter my room and insert

‘faith-is-dead 417’ using the keyboard.

 

 

Here we are! 

Here we are!

Nibbling on roses and hurting our throats with thorns, walking in narrow streets and breathing through suffocating spaces. After disposing all those little relics and after ‘whoring (with) our passions’ to the point of being non-existent.

Here we are!

Again, in each other’s arms. Avoiding, resisting and ultimately flowing out of each other’s bodies, licking the slide of saltish seconds slipping out of our hands, examining the transformations and eventually surrendering to what remains inevitable, the love.

Here we are!

In the moments where holding onto each other felt so difficult yet almost eternal. But, wait! This is what I feel and think. Maybe, you regret it. Maybe, you relish the sweetness of those moments too. I don’t know. I would never be able to know.  Time snatched my taste buds. Or maybe they are there, just that I have forgotten to taste. The taste of the past.

I am changed!

In a way that I have lost the touch with that peculiar vocabulary of love, sombreness and, maybe, submissiveness too.

 

I sit here!

Thousands of miles away from our home and think about us. It may not send shivers down your spine, it isn’t the touch. It may alarm you and make you feel the discomfort which you probably would dismiss after removing the grains of sand entrapped in your shoes.

Fear by Ramsha

The hair smell of mother’s November-illness,
nights have become a reminder of Bari Ami’s paralyzed tongue,
Two-hundred-miles away, there lives a man
whose ulcers are a threat to the growling stomach,
the girl who rescued herself through pills dances in the foggy front,
too much for the night to carry on its shoulders.

Blindness persists
behind all soliloquies,
the fear of being caught-up naked is stronger than pain
caused in the name of love.

Blues, Bruises and Burnt Fumes by Ramsha

Spend another night,
with eyes wide open,
in regret
that you didn’t preserve
your lover’s caresses 
in the jar of your body,
like those dead specimen
which amateur scientists
put in generic solutions,
for future experimentation.

Forget
that your memory betrayed
that you have survived
the blues and the bruises
of love.

Breathe.
Live on burnt fumes.

 

 

 

 

Paralysis

I cannot detest what lies in my womb,
Not even when the shadows of men
Touch my thighs as they walk by.

 

I cannot neglect what keeps coming up
To the edge of my throat, food or thought,
When I think about him dragging his legs
After midnight towards empty rooms,
When I place hands down on my abdomen,
When I see another, like him, crawling in my empty self…

But,
There is something up my throat
That I want to throw out,
Anxiously,
But,
My feet are cold
And I can’t gather courage
To force myself to let it out
But,
I will try this time
When I see the old man
Dragging his feet
Towards the empty room
In the middle of another
Dark, lonely, night.