– Agha Shahid Ali. The Purse-Seiner Atlantis





Soon, soon, the sky will have eyes:
I will fossilize its dome into cracked blue,
I who am about to come
into God’s full view
from the wrong side of the mirror
into which He gazes.”

          And so she dreams
          till the sun-crimsoned shield
          blinds her into nightmare:
          her locks, falling from their roots,
          crawl into rocks to die.
          Perseus holds the sword above her neck.
          Restless in her sleep, she,
          for the last time, brushes back
          the hissing curls from her forehead.

– Agha Shahid Ali. excerpt from Medusa


But first the screened mirror, all I knew of water!
Imagine “the thirstquenching virtue of water.”

Who “kept on building castles” “Upon a certain rock”
“Glacial warden over ‘dreams come true’” of water?

Of course, I saw Chile in my rearview mirror,
it’s disappeared under a curfew of water.

Hagar, in shards, reflects her shattered Ishmael.
Call her the desert Muslim—or Jew—of water.

God, Wordless, beheld the pulled rain but missed the held sun …
The Rainbow—that Arrow!—Satan’s coup of water.

Don’t beckon me, Love, to the island of your words—
You yourself reached it, erasing my view of water.

Her star-cold palanquin goes with the caravan.
Majnoon, now she’ll be news—out of the blue—of water.

When the Beast takes off his mask, Love, let it be you
sweetening Tomorrow Doom’s taboo of water.

No need to stop the ears to the Sirens’ rhetoric;
just mock their rock-theme, O skeleton crew of water.

Are your streets, O Abraham, washed of “the Sons of Stones”?
Sand was all Ishmael once drew of water.

I have signed, O my enemy, your death-warrant.
I won’t know in time I am like you of water.

For God’s sake don’t unveil the Black Stone of Ka‘ba.
What if Faith too’s let love bead a dew of water?

I have even become tears to live in your eyes.
If you weep, Stark Lover, for my breakthrough of water?

Shahid’s junk mail has surfaced in a dead letter office.
He’s deluxed in the leather Who’s Who of Water.

– Agha Shahid Ali


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