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Agha Shahid Ali

09-14-07

Lenox Hill

    (In Lenox Hill Hospital, after surgery, my mother said the sirens sounded
    like the elephants of Mihiragula when his men drove them off cliffs
    in the Pir Panjal Range.)


 

The Hun so loved the cry, one falling elephant's,
he wished to hear it again. At dawn, my mother
heard, in her hospital-dream of elephants,
sirens wail through Manhattan like elephants
forced off Pir Panjal's rock cliffs in Kashmir:
the soldiers, so ruled, had rushed the elephant,
The greatest of all footprints is the elephant's,
said the Buddha. But not lifted from the universe,
those prints vanished forever into the universe,
though nomads still break news of those elephants
as if it were just yesterday the air spread the dye
("War's annals will fade into night / Ere their story die"),

the punishing khaki whereby the world sees us die
out, mourning you, O massacred elephants!
Months later, in Amherst, she dreamt: She was, with dia-
monds, being stoned to death. I prayed: If she must die,
let it only be some dream. But there were times, Mother,
while you slept, that I prayed, "Saints, let her die."
Not, I swear to you, that I wished you to die
but to save you as you were, young, in song in Kashmir,
and I, one festival, crowned Krishna by you, Kashmir
listening to my flute. You never let gods die.
Thus I swear, here and now, not to forgive the universe
that would let me get used to a universe
without you. She, she alone, was the universe
as she earned, like a galaxy, her right not to die,
defying the Merciful of the Universe,
Master of Disease, "in the circle of her traverse"
of drug-bound time. And where was the god of elephants,
plump with Fate, when tusk to tusk, the universe,
dyed green, became ivory? Then let the universe,
like Paradise, be considered a tomb. Mother,
they asked me, So how's the writing? I answered My mother
is my poem. What did they expect? For no verse
sufficed except the promise, fading, of Kashmir
and the cries that reached you from the cliffs of Kashmir

(across fifteen centuries) in the hospital. Kashmir,
she's dying! How her breathing drowns out the universe
as she sleeps in Amherst. Windows open on Kashmir:
There, the fragile wood-shrines—so far away—of Kashmir!
O Destroyer, let her return there, if just to die.
Save the right she gave its earth to cover her, Kashmir
has no rights. When the windows close on Kashmir,
I see the blizzard-fall of ghost-elephants.
I hold back—she couldn't bear it—one elephant's
story: his return (in a country far from Kashmir)
to the jungle where each year, on the day his mother
died, he touches with his trunk the bones of his mother.

"As you sit here by me, you're just like my mother,"
she tells me. I imagine her: a bride in Kashmir,
she's watching, at the Regal, her first film with Father.
If only I could gather you in my arms, Mother,
I'd save you—now my daughter—from God. The universe
opens its ledger. I write: How helpless was God's mother!
Each page is turned to enter grief's accounts. Mother,
I see a hand. Tell me it's not God's. Let it die.
I see it. It's filling with diamonds. Please let it die.
Are you somewhere alive, Mother?
Do you hear what I once held back: in one elephant's
cry, by his mother's bones, the cries of those elephants

that stunned the abyss? Ivory blots out the elephants.
I enter this: The Belovéd leaves one behind to die.
For compared to my grief for you, what are those of Kashmir,
and what (I close the ledger) are griefs of the universe
when I remember you—beyond all accounting—O my mother?
 
-from Rooms Are Never Finished 



 

Archive


Kim Addonizio 03-14-08

 

Agha Shahid Ali 09-14-07

 

Alice Anderson 11-16-08

 

Renee Ashley 04-10-2010

 

Christianne Balk 07-27-07

 

Brian Barker 07-07-07

 

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Bruce Beasley 11-22-08

 

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Linda Bierds 08-31-07

 

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Bruce Bond 02-18-2012

 

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Brian Brodeur 03-29-09

 

Michelle Boisseau 09-20-2010 

 

Sophie Cabot Black 03-26-2012

 

Anne Caston 09-24-09

 

Anne Caston 02-27-2011

 

Elizabeth Biller Chapman 01-25-08

 

Nicole Cooley 04-05-09

 

Stephen Cramer 02-14-2011

 

Nicole Cuddeback 03-07-08

 

Steve Davenport 03-29-2010

 

Cortney Davis 05-03-09

 

Todd Davis 11-01-2010

 

James Dickey 03-12-2012

 

Stephen Dobyns 02-26-2012

 

Elizabeth Dodd 09-05-08

 

Karen Donovan 04-15-07

 

Mark Doty 04-11-08

 

Stephen Dunn 11-09-02010

 

Lynn Emanuel 08-30-2010

 

Lynnell Edwards 11-22-2010

 

B. H. Fairchild  09-04-09

 

Elyse Fenton 04-25-2011

 

Nick Flynn 01-28-2012

 

Nick Flynn 10-04-2010

 

Rachel Contreni Flynn 04-10-2011

 

Carolyn Forche 09-21-07

 

Carrie Fountain 03-21-2011

 

James Galvin 02-23-07

 

Margaret Gibson 01-24-10

 

Mary Jo Firth Gillett 02-22-08

 

Dana Gioia 08-23-2010

 

Eugene Gloria 09-20-08

 

Louise Gluck 03-17-2010

 

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Matthew Graham 11-28-2010

 

Robert Grunst 11-16-07

 

Bruce Guernsey 9-13-2011

 

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Donald Hall 02-10-07

 

Sarah Hannah 11-25-2011

  

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Brooks Haxton 03-08-10

 

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Bob Hicok 10-25-2011

 

 

Andrew Hudgins 11-21-09

 

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Henry Israeli 01-23-2011

 

Major Jackson 05-02-2010

 

Mark Jarman 10-19-08

 

Rodney Jones 10-26-09

 

Barbara Jordan 02-02-09

 

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Eleanor Lerman 11-02-08

 

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Sandy Longhorn 04-26-08

 

Corey Marks 10-03-07

 

Adrian Matejka 04-18-08

 

Davis McCombs 01-18-08

 

Jeffrey McDaniel 10-08-2011

 

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Malena Morling 05-12-08

 

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Sharon Olds 10-19-07

 

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Lucia Perillo 12-04-09

 

Catherine Pierce 04-18-2011

 

Jon Pineda 04-09-2012

 

Donald Platt 02-15-08

 

Joshua Poteat 03-13-2011

 

Joshua Poteat 11-3-09

 

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Dean Rader 03-07-2011

 

Amy Randolph 03-01-09

 

Robert Randolph 12-12-09

 

Adrienne Rich 04-20-2010

 

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David Roderick 12-07-07

 

Bobby C. Rogers 02-04-2012

 

Pattiann Rogers 3-21-08


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Jim Schley 10-19-09

 

Tim Seibles 10-08-07

 

David Shumate 10-26-08

 

Dave Smith 04-10-09 

 

Katherine Soniat 01-21-2012

 

Katherine Soniat 11-30-07

 

Gary Soto 03-23-07

 

Mark Sullivan 08-28-09

 

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