for Edward W. Said

In Jerusalem a dead phone’s dialed by exiles
You learn your strange fate: you were exiled by exiles

You open the heart to list unborn galaxies
Don’t shut that folder when Earth is filed by exiles.

Before night passes over the wheat of Egypt,
let stones be leavened, the bread torn wild by exiles

Crucified Mansoor was alone with the Alone:
God’s loneliness-just his-compiled by exiles

By the Hudson lies Kashmir, brought from Palestine-
It shawls the piano, Bach beguiled by exiles.

Tell me who’s tonight the Physician of Sick Pearls?
Only you as you sit, Desert child, by exiles

Match Majnoon (he kneels to pray on a wine-stained rug)
or prayer will be nothing, distempered mild by exiles

“Even things that are true can be proved” Even they?
Swear not by Art but, dear Oscar Wilde, by exiles

Don’t weep, we’ll drown out the Calls to Prayer, O Saqi-
I’ll raise my glass before wine is defiled by exiles

Was -after the last sky- this the fashion of fire:
autumn’s mist pressed to ashes styled by exiles?

If my enemy’s alone and his arms are empty,
give him my heart silk-wrapped like a child by exiles

Will you, beloved stranger, ever witness Shahid
two destinies at last reconciled by exiles?

– Agha Shahid Ali. By exiles



Spirit splits in its asking,

soul in its wanting is balked—

and the body, fattened, is vital
      and full,

   its previous being uneasy. …

So the modest man
      walks on earth,
   his thoughts drawn toward sky.

What good is the pulse of man’s flesh
      and its favors
   when the mind is in pain?

And the friends who fray me,
   their fine physiques
      and slender thinking,
   thinking it’s ease or gain
      that drives me,
   pitching from place to place,
      my hair wild, my eyes,
         charcoaled with night—
   and not a one speaks wisely,
      their souls blunted, or blurred,
         goat-footed thinkers.

Should someone unguilty
                   hold back from
longing toward heights like the moon?
      Should he wait,
   binding its wings to his waist—
like a man winding his sash about him—
till he acts and they hear of his action,
   as he adds and then adds like the sea
                   to his fame?

By God and God’s faithful—
          and I keep my oaths—
   I’ll climb cliffs
and descend to the innermost pit,
   and sew the edge of desert to desert,
      and split the sea,
            and every gorge,
         and sail in mountainous ascent,

until the word “forever” makes sense to me,

and my enemies fear me,
   and my friends in that fear
         find solace;

then free men will turn
   their faces toward mine,
      as I face theirs,

and soul will save us,
   as it trips our obstructors.

The beds of our friendship are rich with it,
   planted by the river of affection,
      and fixed like a seal in wax,
         like graven gold
   in the windowed dome of the Temple.

May YAH be with you as you love,
   and your soul which He loves be delivered,

   and the God who sends salvation shield you

      till the sun and the moon are no more.

– Shmu’el HaNagid

translated by Peter Cole *

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

–  John Milton. When I Consider How My Light Is Spent

As gifts on the day of my birth,
my loving mother gave out (and all to me),
teeth to the toothless, claws to the weak,
bones to the maimed, limbs to the crippled,
fingers to duty and roads to my legs.
There I clenched my fists and made my choice,
there I clenched my fists and made my resolution,
I feel I was born just now.

My mother’s eyes lustrous and brightened by love,
her puckered lips, her kisses and smiles,
cheeks wrinkled by health and the warmth of her love;
l gambolled in rags like a small unwise lord
on the soil of the serpent’s coils.
My delicate bud of desire was drenched
by the sweet sherbet of an ocean of milk,
my breast by the sweat of unfathomed love.
When l cried out, striking and rocking
the earth which was my cradle,
my mother came rushing with wings,
like the sky swooping down with eagles,
and l feel I was born just now.

– Mohan Koirala. excerpt from I Remember

translated by Michael Hutt


I want this love to be resilient
as crabgrass cracking the interstices
of paving stones until the sidewalks burst. Its ease
is difficulty, rough when crossed, ebullient
in adversity, still new, unruly, int-
ermittently stormy, rolling with June thunder.
We’re getting over, rootlings pushing under
ramshackle walls, knocking them down. A brilliant
midsummer sky, cleaner than metaphors,
blazes above the river. We are three
months old since midnight, appropriately
cheered on a French map, then under the sheet.
I lie beside you now, absorbing heat,
light, currents of cold air, this season’s, yours.
blazes above the river. We are three

– Marilyn Hacker. Untitled V (Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons)