poetry

‘Dust’ and other poems

By SHAHNAZ BASHIR | 1 June 2015

ABOUT THE POEMS Though not indigenous to the English poetic tradition, the ghazal, like the sonnet or the villanelle in centuries past, is now a site for some of the most innovative work in English poetry.

As exemplified in these poems by Shahnaz Bashir, the ghazal’s relatively long line allows the lyric speaker to range widely before finding his way back to the shore of the refrain—dust, rain, shoes. And because the poetic argument does not proceed (vertically, this time) in a straight line, each couplet can take the theme in a new direction, creating a sense of expanding amplitude within the couplets and across them. The form lends itself well to a tone of world-weariness, of being unable to defend oneself against the play of regret and yearning. Parsing life for its meanings and mysteries, every line resonates almost as an aphorism would.

Three Ghazals
by Shahnaz Bashir

Dust

Hooves, boots, tires, chains, bombs, stick-drawn lines—what could they do but raise dust
Palaces, pyramids, crowns, swords, cannons, conceit, avarice, beauty—all gathered dust

Torn between tired eyes and fates written on each grain of gunpowder, in each bullet
In the city of survival, despair’s weak heart throbs ever so often as hope’s teeth bite dust

Its camels saddled with stories, laden with laughter, smiles, tears, screams and whispers
Memory’s caravan travels past in life’s desert, raising in its wake clouds of nostalgic dust

Soil of his grave was soft like sand, its smell that of cold silk, but still nothing like home
Through the thick earth a dead exile screamed, “Get me from there a handful of dust.”

In grief’s universe night sky is a widow’s perforated black dupatta where silver tinsel
stars are crushed by wrinkles, tarnished by tears; and the moon is ground into a fine dust

Like unsettling dust itself, everything in the world will settle down after all, even all unlike
Everything will perish and return to itself: Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Beauty of being is a reflection of its forced smile, a warped image of its helpless happiness
On a ledge in the brothel of existence, a prostitute’s silver hand-mirror lies covered in dust

When faith parted waters, history’s lessons became paths, and bodies metaphors. Now,  
there, across the Nile, as Moses’s soul thrives, here quietly the Pharaoh’s turns into dust 

The rain, that just washed the carved grooves of a mystic’s epitaph with celestial promises,
Now hisses prayers and waits for the gnostic whispering wind to scatter the mortal dust

 

Rain

The old woman still sits at the latticed door, in the street saddened by rain,
Watching children save a paper boat—from a puddle—collapsed with rain

While parting, the betrayer couldn’t tell if the betrayed was smiling or crying
The moment she smiled and cried and yet her face was drenched in rain

A life drowned and another rowed as Noah peered out of his ark’s window
The cruel spate was so fated with faith that even the sun was soaked in rain

Love is a myth between stony eyes of lovers separated by borders of longing
Nothing moves; only the barbs of their barbed-wire eyelashes drip with rain

The sad music of life, Shahnaz, is fraught with wet sounds and moist murmurs 
Each day is a guitar played by a fragment of a strum, plunking its strings of rain

 

Shoes

The frayed embroidery on a half-mother’s pheran; melted soles of her telltale shoes
In the morgue the most consoling things to her are the coroner’s unpolished shoes

In an old, black-and-white, mildewed Urdu newspaper’s picture, after the massacre
The only remnants one can see are gore, scrambled braziers and scattered shoes

In quest’s barren desert as love burns sand into Majnun’s calloused naked fair soles
Leila’s lips tremble and dry; her tender, sallow feet feel her pinching soft shoes

A feetless merchant’s gold-vamped juttis slip from his lap as he rolls his wheelchair
A shabby but healthy beggar outside the mosque craves a pair of plastic shoes

Who to you is an atheist and who a god-lover, decide, as Shariati prefers to walk
on streets and think about God than stay in mosques and think about his shoes.

A cobbler’s stars curse him for his efforts to mend the flaking Rexine uppers—with
scattered leftovers of leather—as the anvil slips through his own poor soleless shoes

Have you seen how they remain tongue-tied, Shahnaz, under a crisscross of laces?
And how they are displayed in fake strides, in showcases, the dusty feetless shoes?

Shahnaz Bashir teaches creative journalism and literary reportage at the Central University of Kashmir, where he is the coordinator of the media studies programme. His debut novel, The Half Mother, was published in June by Hachette India.

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