Prose

Melancholy Tastes the Same in Italy and Other Stories

“A sad story, don’t you think?”
Haruki Murakami, On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning

1.

I thought all the kids did it. Whenever it got too much, you’d just take it all, unspooled as it was, and pick a song. (Any song.) You’d listen to that song again and again and again, until the feeling was the song and the song the feeling. And… then you didn’t have to worry about it ever again. It worked really well — it still does. The only problem is that now I’m old enough to forget things. And sometimes I’ll play a song that’s vaguely familiar and, before I know it, all those threads that I’ve carefully stashed into it will come flying out. And high up on Mount Olympus, Ariadne can’t stop giggling.


2.

I remember the softness of her naked feet on the cold, clean tiles.


3.

At dusk, bright billboards of you across Lahore pursue me home.


4.

Even the smallest Dairy Milk is purple. Once, purple was worth its weight in gold. The Phoenicians would crack open hundreds of thousands of Mediterranean sea snails to make an ounce of Tyrian purple. Imagine that. Imagine the audacity of trying to overwhelm her with quantity, to stretch my hands out “thiiiiiiis much”, “to the moon and back”, “infinity times infinity”, but I can’t say all that, of course, so I do the best I can and save up for weeks and weeks and buy as many of the small, purple bars of Dairy Milk that I can. And when I turn the large backpack upside down before her, I can see the concern for my sanity in her eyes. Believe me, this is the best that I can do to show you how much. Forgive the quality of the chocolate. Once, purple was worth its weight in gold. I stand before you, hoping that the quantity is enough for you to extrapolate the quality. You were always good at math.


5.

The indolent Sunday afternoons of my childhood are estranged from me. Lost in time. They seemed so endless back then. Will I ever get them back? Or, if I do, will it simply lead to a relocation of those longings to another horizon, still further back. I dream of horizons of yearning, each gazing at the other, a succession of infinite funhouse mirrors in a Barnum and Bailey multiverse. “But it wouldn’t be make-believe / if you believed / in me.”


6.

A final memory. Another birthday party. She is not coming. So I talk to an old friend. An animated conversation about politics — the usual. When, suddenly. Small, soft palms cover my eyes. The heart-note of a perfume I can always pick out, no matter how crowded the school’s corridor. A voice breathes in my ear. Guess who? And I can not breathe. For I know that this moment will forever be a barometer for my happiness, the high-water mark left on the battered levees of my heart. When did the sun begin to set?


7.

And now here I am, on the last train home. And I do not know what to make of that.


we were running through the autumn leaves /
a couple kids just wearing out our jeans…

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Poetry

Arcadia

Just for this evening, let’s not mock them.

At least they had ideas about love.

Mary Szybist, The Troubadours Etc.

heavy New England sunlight floods your apartment.

in the mornings after, your bed is too small for us both.

the only music — faint — from your old phone in the shower.

it’s always Sunday, somewhere.

contrails fade into clear, blue sky.

the porches of the nation creak beneath

bluejeans and familiar conversation.

faded pastel flags above the strip

mall flutter in the breeze.

and somehow I am in a scratchy grey sweater

a schoolboy in a long forgotten —

now urgently familiar — corridor.

it is winter yet I am not cold.

something burns within me:

it is the thought of meeting you.

but every step is time, time, time.

Heraclitus’ curse.

decades pass.

I grow estranged from my self.

the music grows louder.

the bathroom door opens.

what’s wrong?

you ask

why on earth are you shivering?

The Cloisters, Fort Tryon

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Poetry

Giant

do you remember the tiny

balcony with the single,

swaying bulb? of

course, she said.

the cheap wine,

the red paper

cups.

how every Fourth of July

I leant there against the

gunwales of your heart,

watching the fireworks

flash in your

eyes.

yes, we lived like

giants, she

said.

P.S. If you look out the window, you might see a train travelling to tomorrow. 

P.P.S. time, she says, / “there’s no turning back, / keep your eyes on the tracks” / through the fields, somewhere there’s blue / oh, time will tell, she’ll see us through

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Poetry

Camelot

Every love story is a ghost story.

David Foster Wallace

in a flyover state where

the trains do not stop

but chug on toward the

hills, a quiet chord drifts

out over the darkling

plains and is lost for ever

to the wind and rain and

perhaps we are only

this: ghosts before our

time burning through

books burning through

women burning through

ourselves hoping to find

Camelot.

oceans away — a place

where nobody speaks the

language of the heartland

— you wait for the Q44 to

take you home. lights

alight. church bells toll

the hour. tonight the

street is empty and the

night is empty and the

moon will not rise and

there will be no stars to

guide you home. only the

dumpster fires rage on,

filled with the debris of

yesterday.

I got this window that looks out to Orion / I paid extra for

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Poetry

The Fifth Season

Slaves in the realm of love are the only truly free men.

Ibn Ammar, Seville, Arab Andalusia 

And I’ll love you like the sun loves California.

Beth Hart, My California

it demands a new vocabulary for

it is the fifth season

it is deciduous

it is like those flowers in the desert

that bloom once in a blue moon after long

nights of rain and fade away in the face of

solar slaughter leaving behind

the singing sand dunes

to tell of them

to tell of us

 

i

read book

after book

after book

and yet

i

can not find the words

to tell of you

to tell of me

to tell of us.

 

what us?

(she said)

what words?

there are only

twelve keys

seven seas

and

four seasons

yes

(i said)

yes

and yet…

and yet.

 

like an addict Gilbert begged the gods

“let me fall in love one last time”

he said and

i get it.

it can be hard to live so long

in the grey to live so long

that you yearn for the colours

because you’ve — almost, almost —

forgotten what blue looks like

what you look like

 

these are words on paper

these are pixels on a screen

one of these days they’ll upload you

to the web and stream you to the stars

you’ll materialise on the other side

a little tired, a little bewildered

but pretty much the same except for

what was it?

it’s right on the tip of your tongue

it’s all that they couldn’t put into

ones and zeroes because

there’s no language

there’s no lexicon

(yet)

to tell of you

to tell of me

to tell of us

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Prose

Sohni

This post was also published here, on the Ziauddin University Atlas Blog.

Man’s heart a river be

deeper in depth than the unfathomable oceans,

Ah! Who knows the wailing of the heart

in search of its Lord?

Sultan Bahu, d. 1691, (translated from the Punjabi by Sayed Akhlaque Husain Tauhidi)

THERE is a stubborn Sohni in my soul who longs to cross the Chenab of two worlds to reach her beloved, Mahiwal. I refuse. She persists. I patiently explain how fragile my ghaṛiya; how vast—how turbulent—the waters. It is but a simple thing fashioned of simple, unbaked clay: how dare it aspire—ad astra—to the stars? She smiles at me and slowly shakes her lovely head. 

A marvellous thing: as we watch the shoreline recede behind us—and the waters swirl higher, ever higher—my turbid heart settles for the first time since I was a boy of twelve and found that battered old copy of the Conference of the Birds and learnt of love and Love. 

And together, my Sohni and I watch as our Mahiwal appears on the distant bank and dives into the waves and strikes out for our simple, fragile, star-seeking, little ghaṛiya.

(Still from the music video of Coke Studio’s “Paar Chanaan De(Across the Chenab) by Noori ft. Shilpa Rao.)

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