Let me fall

in love one last time, I beg them.

Teach me mortality, frighten me

into the present.

Help me to find

the heft of these days.

That the nights

will be full enough and my heart feral.

Jack Gilbert, I Imagine The Gods

SOME days the sun was too hot and the breeze that blew in from the ocean would pause for the siesta and on days like that the heat rose off the streets and the heart yearned for a home it had never seen.

On days like that I’d fire up the old clunker with the faithful ’70s radio and shift her into first then second, up and up, smooth as I could manage, until fifth and we were roaring down the causeway and the little kids who splash the summer away in the sewers would laugh and jump and wave and I’d honk twice and wave back.

Most days I’d park her up at that lane under the big old banyan and crank down the windows about three inches each side. I’d push the seat way back and sip at the milky coffee that was always too hot to gulp down but sweet enough that you tried anyway.

It’s hard to say why I chose to park there. I guess it was the perpetual autumn more than anything. Even in the doldrums of summer the lane was fresh and clean and quiet — the air a little crisper, the sun a little softer, the entirety of it drenched in magic.

I’d sit there for hours drifting in and out of sleep. As the sun set into the sea, dark figures would pass me by heading for the kabristan. Sometimes they’d pause outside my window and I’d hear them whisper to me and it grew cold and I’d wish just then that I had brought her along because she was warm and alive and then I remembered and was quiet.

There were big trees all along the sides of the lane and the pools of light from the lamp posts would end up dappled across the dark asphalt after making their way through the leaves. It was then that I’d carefully crank up the windows, lock the car and make my way up the lane towards the kabristan.

He was waiting for me by the entrance.

“You are well?”

“I am.”

“You do not look it. You are well?”

“I am.”

“You do not look it. Your eyes betray you. But come. See what a good job I have done. Rosewater every day, just as sahib ordered.”

“Thank you.”

“I am sorry.”

“Thank you.”

“Shall I leave?”

“Yes. No, wait. Here. Thank you.”

“Thank you. You are too kind. Are you sure you are well?”

“I am.”

“Alright. I should be on my way. The rains will come soon. They are forever flooding the graves downhill. It is madness. You are lucky, sahib, to have a spot up here. The rains will come soon. But they will cause no trouble to a spot up here. Alright. Allahafiz.”


I watched as the caretaker walked off down the narrow path. Soon he was only a dark blur weaving between the graves. He was a good man. He’d built the little bench next to her and there I sat. The scent of rosewater carried each time the wind blew from the sea. And I remembered.

I clambered up the rough face of the outcrop and reached the top where the wind never stops and looked for the sunset and dusted my hands off – once, twice – on the faded blue of the jeans. And the sunset was beautiful and warm and the air was cold and fresh and I saw the city’s skyline, silhouettes softened by the fog and the distance. And, as the city lights flickered, my thoughts turned to a girl who lived in a castle by the sea. And whether, if ever, she thought of me.

The breeze blew another gust my way. And I could have sworn I heard a familiar voice mingled in the scent of rosewater.

“Hi,” it said. “I missed you.”

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Goodbye Milky Way

Published in the first edition of the Ziauddin University Atlas, 2016. 

So much depends
On the condensation in the eyes of a lover
The trembling fault
In the silent breath before a kiss

Unintentional ends
Laced in songs of forever
A hesitant thought
Flickering before a superficial wish

Sahr Jalil

“TELL me a story,” she said, snuggling up to him as they watched Rigel and Betelgeuse twinkle overhead.

“Alright,” he agreed. “But just one, okay?”

She said nothing but he felt her smile in the dark beside him and he was glad.

“Once upon a time,” he began, “there was a beautiful girl who – ”

“Why do all your stories have beautiful girls in them?”

“Maybe because I haven’t found one yet,” he teased.

She elbowed him feebly and he laughed.

“Fine,” she said. But he knew she wasn’t angry. “Go on.”

“Okay, so once upon a time there was a beautiful girl,” he paused, meaningfully, “who danced.”

“She danced so well that all who watched her were mesmerised into silence. And it was not uncommon to see tears glistening on the cheeks of her audience, for in her graceful movement they saw the fragility of life and the transience of existence.

“Now there was a benevolent prince who lived in a castle not too far away and when he heard about this extraordinary dancing girl, he was exceedingly anxious to see her for himself. So he dressed up in the garb of a wandering mystic and set off to satisfy his curiosity. He travelled for many days – he was a benevolent prince after all, not a benevolent navigator – but eventually succeeded in finding the little tavern where the dancing girl was.

“Making his way to the front of the crowd, the prince waited anxiously to see the girl and – when the curtains finally parted – he couldn’t breathe, for she was indeed lovelier than the moon. The girl danced with her eyes closed, losing herself in the music and when she finished, she stepped forwards to curtsy, looked into the prince’s lovelorn gaze and promptly froze, blushing fiercely. That was all the prince needed to see. He jumped onto the stage, tore of his disguise and got down on one knee. The crowd burst into grudging applause and soon the two were married and would have lived happily ever after except – ”

“Except what?” she asked.

“Except that this was a time of change. The era of kings and queens was at an end and the time of this-ism and that-ism was about to begin. The fires of revolution were spreading and, though the prince was benevolent, he was also a prince and he realised that it was only a matter of time until his people realised that, too. He had not forgotten how grudgingly they had applauded. He had not forgotten at all.

“So one night – a night just like this one in fact – he took his princess by the hand and led her up the stairs to the highest tower of the castle. And as they stood under the stars, watching the fires of a new epoch burn in the distance, he asked her to dance one last dance for him. And when she finished, he took her in his arms and whispered something in her ear that made her laugh and cry and cry and laugh. And then they stood quietly at the weathered battlements, watching the familiar night fade away into an uncertain dawn.”

“Wow,” she whispered. “What did he tell her?”

“No one knows. But if I had to guess – if you were that girl and and I was that prince – this is what I would have said to you:

“One day, the Milky Way will collide with the Andromeda Galaxy. And the Earth will be no more. And in that blaze of light, all that we’ve loved – the places where we lived and we met and we kissed and we cried – will be lost into the coldness of space. But I’d like to imagine that as the debris of what we once were journeys out past the suns and the supernovas and the comets’ icy tails, our stardust will fall on a young planet. And millennia hence, two young lovers on that young planet will look into each other’s eyes and draw back, amazed. For in those eyes they’ll see something of you. And in those eyes they’ll see something of me. And across the eons and across the light years, for a moment, you and I will be together again.”

She said nothing but he felt her sleep in the dark beside him. And as he watched Orion wheel across the heavens – as Hypnos weaved his ancient spells – he felt her warmth beside him, holding back tomorrow, and he was glad.

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Puerta del Sol

Can angels lie spine to spine?
If not, how they must envy us humans.

Kamila Shamsie, Kartography

“FOLLOW me,” she whispered. And he did.

She pulled him by his rough, honest hands up the winding stairs, higher and higher and higher.

“Faster, faster,” she laughed. So he did.

They reached the top of the old lighthouse and sat in the old place, legs dangling over the edge. The sun was bright and he had to blink twice in homage.

“Hi,” she smiled. And, after a moment, so did he.

Although he was a simple man, of simple tastes, the view from the top of the old lighthouse never failed to arouse thoughts of art and poetry. But though he was a simple man, he was wise too and he realised how foolish it would be to attempt to capture this in any form. No, he thought, one must live it, savour it, then let it slip away; for is that not life?

“Remember when we were young?” she asked, slipping her hand into his. And he did. He did.

He remembered the day they’d gone up to the hills and she’d danced between the trees and fallen asleep on his lap and the smell of her hair and the cloud that looked like a boat to him and a house to her and the evening as it fell and the little bobbing light they saw in the distance that was an old man who wandered the hills in the dark and invited them to his small, warm cabin for hot chocolate and told them stories about his wife who left one day and never came back and how glad they’d been, just then, to have each other.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, brushing the hair from his eyes. And he pointed out towards the sea at a boat on the horizon.

The sun was setting into the darkling waters and he was afraid for the little boat. Did it not know that the lighthouse had been abandoned for many years? Its cold, stone walls held no guiding beacon. Would it float adrift, or would it crash into the jagged rocks of the coast?

“Mi amor,” she smiled, turning his eyes towards hers. And, for a moment, he couldn’t breathe. “Mi amor, I promise you. It will find its way home. It is not so little or so helpless as you think.”

And as the sun slipped beneath the horizon, he watched her vanish into the aether, a memory once more. And he stared after the little boat until he could see it no more.

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One Last Sunset

A BOY. A girl. The flaming passions of the setting sun reflected in their young faces.

He turns. Sweet salt air. A hint of vanilla. Her dark eyes meet his.

Eternity wraps herself in a moment.

In that tangible instant, he sees another face from another time. A strikingly similar face from an incredibly, indescribably distant time.

And he is filled with the anguish of the ages and the regrets of humanity clutch at his heart.

Just as his forefathers had before him and just as his sons will after he is dust, the boy sees — in the depths of his love and in the wells of human emotion — that fatal flaw, that transience which is the curse of humanity.

The boy shivers, imperceptibly, as a warm hand slips into his. And he watches quietly as the dying sun slowly slips beneath the dark, dark horizon.

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