Poems


In Print

RED & BLUE     Retracing an arrow hardly does us any good if the arrow missed its mark. My friend wants to kill   those in office. I try poker. Pair, two pair, Flush. I can never remember how to quizzically excuse   myself of the inexcusable. I once saw a hermit climb mud-brick steps with a fold-up table in one hand. He was on his way   to the house of gods but I wondered about the table that was shaky. Some say   the dream of United States is contaminating but we must wait. An enflamed spirit can wait   but it is unhygienic and unstable like science of yesterday, Ptolemaic spheres, balancing of choler   and phlegm, shapes of skull. What can never be confirmed can also never be denied. This is the rule of faith   fear, and other f words. Even facts falter with time, and of course that is what I meant by f words.   I am a city-educated cynic, a girl, I know excrement can be fuel and holy. Yes, my faith   has been hit, admonished, hiding in underground cafés nibbling cheeseless pizzas. Living is difficult on a boat   that has forgotten the ground. Even on water wood can burn. But who has the time   to get out? Passersby call, “Let it go, yaar.” They say it is foolish to fight it. Fatalists with stringed lips   sound a conch. I count the change in my pocket. Do things to keep myself   busy. Wait for a revolution to ripen under hot sun. I may move I say but take   my hat and squat on the sidewalk instead. Such a rough and tumble place—   temples replaced by conference rooms and all manners of ancient clippings   stick to cubicles and refrigerator doors. And those that don’t do not matter. Sometimes I wonder if I am mad   at the world for not changing.       LEFTOVER   Everything has gone out of me but maybe I clamp down on luck or some kind of malfunction. In this clinic   nothing feels clinical. Trash, lumps of flesh, my insides. I have signed the necessary forms. In a sleeve of the purse the receptionist sneaks back   to me are needles. Otherwise, I am empty. Shoot me up and don’t tell my husband. He is at some war getting an advanced degree in killing and I have decided not to have them—   children. That is my gift to the planet. Besides, what has loving or being loved done for anyone. When the Dalai Lama comes to town, I will raise my hand   and ask. In combat, the trick is to keep a pebble in the mouth, reduce the need for thirst and speech. This I can do   to keep from talking about today’s casualty. Maybe the connection will be bad when he calls. The words will crack   so that it sounds something like oh….that….again. This comforts me, or is it the thought of going back to an empty house   or the needle, or maybe some other ending altogether.

RED & BLUE  

 

Retracing an arrow hardly does us any good

if the arrow missed its mark. My friend wants to kill

those in office. I try poker. Pair, two pair,

Flush. I can never remember how to quizzically excuse

myself of the inexcusable. I once saw a hermit climb

mud-brick steps with a fold-up table in one hand. He was on his way

to the house of gods but I wondered about the table

that was shaky. Some say

the dream of United States is contaminating but

we must wait. An enflamed spirit can wait

but it is unhygienic and unstable like science

of yesterday, Ptolemaic spheres, balancing of choler

and phlegm, shapes of skull. What can never be confirmed

can also never be denied. This is the rule of faith

fear, and other f words. Even facts falter with time,

and of course that is what I meant by f words.

I am a city-educated cynic, a girl, I know

excrement can be fuel and holy. Yes, my faith

 

has been hit, admonished, hiding in underground cafés

nibbling cheeseless pizzas. Living is difficult on a boat

that has forgotten the ground. Even on water

wood can burn. But who has the time

to get out? Passersby call, “Let it go, yaar.” They say

it is foolish to fight it. Fatalists with stringed lips

sound a conch. I count the change

in my pocket. Do things to keep myself

busy. Wait for a revolution to ripen

under hot sun. I may move I say but take

my hat and squat on the sidewalk instead.

Such a rough and tumble place—

temples replaced by conference rooms

and all manners of ancient clippings

stick to cubicles and refrigerator doors. And those that don’t

do not matter. Sometimes I wonder if I am mad

at the world for not changing.

LEFTOVER

Everything has gone out of me but maybe

I clamp down on luck or some kind

of malfunction. In this clinic

nothing feels clinical. Trash, lumps of flesh,

my insides. I have signed the necessary forms. In a sleeve

of the purse the receptionist sneaks back

to me are needles. Otherwise, I am empty. Shoot me up

and don’t tell my husband. He is at some war getting an advanced

degree in killing and I have decided not to have them—

children. That is my gift to the planet. Besides,

what has loving or being loved done for anyone.

When the Dalai Lama comes to town, I will raise my hand

and ask. In combat, the trick is to keep

a pebble in the mouth, reduce the need

for thirst and speech. This I can do

to keep from talking about today’s casualty.

Maybe the connection will be bad

when he calls. The words will crack

so that it sounds something like

oh….that….again. This comforts me, or is it

the thought of going back to an empty house

or the needle, or maybe some other ending altogether.

Motherless

1.

my biggest fear is that we burned you alive

and the heart they handed me—

tied in a muslin—was still beating

I can’t fathom what it means

you gone—for you to be gone

I have to be gone

it is different to be with the dead

than the dying, did you know?

I was the one who pulled out scissors to chop off

your clothes and the sticky smell of your death

I took pictures wearing a sheer kurta

I can’t trust memory—

it keeps deceiving

tasteless, the relatives said, this is a cremation

but I was too vulgar to be comforted

2.

I can’t seem to throw anything of yours away—

rags, broken necklace clasps, handwritten grocery lists

saris fraying at folds—my friend says artists manufacture drama

to find meaning in the minutest of experiences

why do people say callous things when you lose someone

or do they always say such things

3.

we have new names

Papa is a widower

I am a motherless child

you, Ma, are simply gone

and I am not allowed to call you a traitor

4.

it is the smell of you—

earth after rain, spicy sweet incense

wet flour and cumin crusting on hands from making rotis

and that steady voice—

beta, bahut der ho gai, ab kuch karo

do something

and I don’t—again and again and again

5.

In the mirror—my pupils freeze,

my chin locks, teeth grind shut

a trickle of blood crusts just above the lip

it is a dead woman’s face

6.

I take a sip of water

pour some for you on the ground

take another

sip—hours, days, and years—

you don’t meet my daughter, my husband

don’t thumb through my book, don’t cradle my head in your lap—

the glass goes empty, full, empty and full

and what I have to say

does not end

(Appeared in Juked, 2018)

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Translations of Munir Niazi’s poems

Audio

My relationship with poetry started early, with my mom reciting Kabir, hoping it would guide us to wisdom. We spent summers memorizing and reciting poems for fun. I still remember many of them and understand them more and more each day–how they make complexity accessible and the accessible complex–the dissonance and synergy of words, sounds and ideas colliding and merging into each other.
Slide28

Partition/ Batwara has appeared in Alhamra Review.

PARTITION

 *Music: Apurva Shrivastava
एक शहर थाएक गावँ थाएक देश, एक घर
हाँ बटवारा तो हो गया
लाइन भी खिच गई—इस तरफ से उस तरफ
किसने खीची?
जानते हुए भी नहीं जानती, मगर
तबसे लाल, काला, हरा, गेरूआँ, सफ़ेद
इस तरफ से उस तरफ बहुत भयानक लगता है
 
There is blood
in the parting of my hair
but I don’t see a mark
I move my left leg, my right leg
move here to there as if
there were no where and
right here was where
I was meant to be
एक शहर थाएक गावँएक देशएक घर
क्या तुम जानते हो की आँख में आँसू कहाँ से आते हैं?
मुझे कुछ याद नहीं, मैं कुछ भूल नहीं पाती
किसी की दाढ़ी, किसी की टोपी,
वो लटकती पगड़ी, वो झुमके
किसी की चीख, वो छोटे-छोटे बच्चे
बदन तो डाँपती, उघा़रती सारीयाँ, दुप्पट्टे
हाथँ पे सना वो सिन्दूरी खू़न
वो कफ़न, वो लपती, लपाती चिताएँ
क्या तुम्हें याद है?
क्या तुम भूल पाए हो?
That day in which I grew
I grew quiet—
bad at catching
afraid it would hit between the eyes
bruise cheeks, smash teeth, ramp twice-broken nose
I was afraid there was blood
in the parting of hair
अब भी बू आती है
हाँ, अब भी बू आती हैसब तरफ
अगरबत्तीयाँ जलाते-जलाते उंगलियाँ थक  गईं
मगर  अब  भी , वही  पुरानी , थकी , तीखी  बू
इस पारउस पार
जिसे मैं जानते  हूए भी नहीं पहचानती
I am tired of letting go
something I never held
someone I never know
this city, this village, this country, this house
this side, that side, talking
at the same time over—
over each other
it’s the same, it’s the same to me
because old stories talk to new stories
(tell them everything)
no, I don’t see a mark
but there is still a hint of blood
in the parting of my hair
 *Music: Sharaab