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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Prose

Dear Baba

Dear Baba,

A million years ago — as they sat by their little campfire — a father pointed out the constellations to his son. And the infinite night sky didn’t seem as intimidating anymore.

It’s the stories we grow up with that whisper the loudest within our hearts; they are the framework for our dreams; they pulse with the rhythm of our short, bright lives.

Thank you for giving me the stories that have made me who I am today. (Here is one of them.) Stories of social justice and dignity and equality. Stories of a divine love that is greater than the stars. And stories of who I was, who I am, and who I will be.

They are stories that will last a lifetime and I shall never tire of telling them.

Love you, forever and always.

Your son,

Shahzéb

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Prose

(Why I Love) the Nostalgia of the Infinite

Strangers leave us poems to tell of those

they loved, how the heart broke, to whisper

of the religion upstairs in the dark,

sometimes in the parlor amid blazing sunlight,

and under trees with rain coming down

in August on the bare, unaccustomed bodies.

Jack Gilbert, Relative Pitch

THE Nostalgia of the Infinite has been my favourite piece of art for as long as I can remember. 

I don’t know when I first saw it — perhaps it had something to do with the indie game, Ico — but none of that truly matters. What matters is this:

That there is a deep and yearning nostalgia within Man’s heart. He feels it flutter when he looks upon the endless sea. He feels it tighten when he gazes up at the beckoning stars. He feels it even when he is with the one he loves most in the world. 

The heart yearns to mingle itself with the object of its desire and it can not and so it yearns to be whole. It has yearned since the dawn of consciousness and it yearns still with each (lub dub) and every (lub dub) beat. 

For there was once a time when it was not so — the heart was whole and it knew no sorrow. But that time has long since passed and is but a half-remembered dream from a childhood siesta for ever ago. But men will do strange things to appease their half-remembered dreams. Alexander led his armies to the very edge of the world. Thousands died in the impenetrable rainforests of the Amazon searching for El Dorado. And in a town called Babylon, a man built the greatest tower ever built to look upon the Face of God. It has always been so. 

But look closer. 

There they are, in plain sight. 

(two)

And, as they lean closer in the empty piazza, for a moment, their shadows become…

(one)

Giorgio de Chirico, The Nostalgia of the Infinite (Paris, 1911)

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