Agha Shahid Ali
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?
Those “Fabrics of Cashmere–“ ”to make Me beautiful–“
“Trinket”– to gem– “Me to adorn– How– tell”– tonight?
I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates–
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.
God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar–
All the archangels– their wings frozen– fell tonight.
Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.
Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.
He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open– for God– the doors of Hell tonight.
In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight
God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day–
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.
Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.
The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.
My rivals for your love– you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.
And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee–
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.
How wonderful it is to come upon a ghazal, in its full lyrical glory, in english, where you least expected it, on public radio!
This reading is from one of Shahid Ali’s last interviews (on the National Public Radio (NPR) in July 2001). His health was rapidly deteriorating. As he was unable to read the poem himself, his brother reads it (you can hear Shahid, in the background, appreciating the reading).
An excerpt, from the latter article:
“On one occasion, at the Barcelona airport, he was stopped by a security guard just as he was about to board a plane. The guard, a woman, asked: “What do you do?”
“I’m a poet,” Shahid answered.
“What were you doing in Spain?”
No matter the question, Shahid worked poetry into his answer. Finally, the exasperated woman asked: “Are you carrying anything that could be dangerous to the other passengers?” At this Shahid clapped a hand to his chest and cried: “Only my heart.”