• Ghalib’s Ghost

    and other poems

    November 7, 2016

    Meena Alexander


    Kabir Sings
    in a City of Burning Towers

    What a shame
    they scared you so
    you plucked your sari off,
    crushed it into a ball

    then spread it
    on the toilet floor.
    Sparks from the towers
    fled through  the weave of silk.

    With your black hair
    and sun dark skin
    you’re just a child of earth.
    Kabir the weaver sings:

    O men and dogs
    in times of grief
    our rolling earth
    grows small.



















    Ghalib’s Ghost

    When I was young mother called me chick chick chick.
    Father read Conference of the Birds aloud to me.

    I was partridge, the one with speckled wings
    poking here and there with her beak, gobbling stones.

    One afternoon, the roof blew off our house.
    Roofs blew off many houses, courtyards filled with clouds.

    I fell from our upper room into a circus.
    Petals paraded through hot skies, veiling sun and moon.

    Paintings had eyes, lips, thighs torn out.
    Bullets swam in grandmother’s well.

    I had to take my glasses off for that sack I was forced
    to pull over my head. Peering out as best I could

    I saw leopards curled in heat
    and Ghalib’s ghost hidden in a burkha, pouncing at crickets.



    For a Friend Whose Father was Killed
    on the Lahore Border in the 1965 War Between India and Pakistan

    I come to you nothing in my arms
    just this bundle,

    cloth covering what the pity of war
    could not render up— the bones of a father.

    The horses of Uttarakand wept salt,
    their necks were torqued.

    Birds stalk clouds, clouds hang cold,
    on a hill of gold, stick insects clamor.

    Where are the burnt plains of the Punjab?
    The killing fields of Partition?

    At the mouth of Central Park
    apple blossom sifts your breath

    and you search for me.
    I long to come running to you, hair flying,

    a girl again in the moist air,
    in the ordinary light of a garden.

    But how shall I hold  you
    this bundle in my arms —love’s fierce portion?

    How shall we face the torn rim of green,
    the horses of Columbus cut in steel?





    7fa6699f7f39bdc54cf1cea6c5a9fc3eFolio from a bestiary and herbal, Isfahan ca. 1600 / Pinterest




    All three poems are from “Poems on War”, from Raw Silk (TriQuarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press, 2004) and reproduced with permission from the poet.

    Meena Alexander's most recent volume of poems is Atmospheric Embroidery (New Delhi: Hachette India, 2015). An expanded edition of the book, with new poems is forthcoming from TriQuarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press, 2018. Also see meenaalexander.com. You can read more poems by Meena Alexander in Guftugu.

    These poems are the fifth in ICF's unfolding Citizens against War series of literature and art, initiated in the spirit of listening: to our poets, artists, fellow citizens, against war and warmongering, and the hatred contrived by our "leaders" day after day.

    Top image: Bihzad, 'Attack against the fort of Urganj', Zafarnama, 15th c. / Pinterest

    Text © Meena Alexander

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