The Dead Are Here (chapter 13) The dead are here. Listen to survivors search for screams to place on the corpses’ mouths.
The self is lost, erased at this moment. So reveal, quickly, a secret to me:
When, at last, that hour comes, who will lead me through the catacombs to the swordsman’s arms?
Will it be a long-lost friend, speaking of her, of her hands digging out turquoise perfumes
from the air’s mines? Will he bring a message from her eyes, so far away now, gazing
at a dream in which the ghosts of prisoners are shaking the bars till iron softens
into a song ~ everywhere the shadows of my voice, everywhere a smokeless fire?
Tonight the air is many envelopes again. Tell her to open them at once
and find hurried notes about my longing for wings. Tell her to speak, when that hour comes,
simply of the sky. Friend, speak of the sky when that hour comes. Speak, simply of the air.
Agha Shahid Ali
A new friend introduced me to the poems of Shahid Ali last month, and now suddenly he is everywhere in my world. Ryan, the director of the writing program, brought me a book to read on Monday (Call Me Ishmael Tonight) of Shahid's ghazals, an Arabic poetic form with a beautiful lyric repetition pattern. Shahid was born in Kashmir and is one of the poets responsible for bringing ghazals to the US. An example, Of Light, here.
I fell down the rabbit hole of researching him online, which is when I found the poem above––not a ghazal––the last three couplets slay me. Tonight the air is many envelopes / again. The poem my friend gave me a copy of (which now lives on my studio wall), is the title piece from the collection The Country Without A Post Office, and can be read here. Then last night, a new lovely resident shared a book she brought to VSC, edited by Shahid (who else!) of ghazals written by English speaking poets, called Ravishing DisUnities. She also sent a pdf by Shahid, on how to write (or maybe just as pointedly, how not to write) one. All because we sat together at lunch talking of ghazals and Ali -- she was his student.
So, universe, I hear you.
I'm going to try to write one, which I have successfully avoided for three years. But maybe it is time, to understand the difficulty and the triumph of well won words. And when I bask in my failure, I'll lean back in my yellow chair and mouth the wonder of Agha Shahid Ali's poems, and know that is enough.
A photograph I took yesterday, at 4:18pm sunset in the cemetary off Railroad St., another favorite walk here in Johnson, to the hill above the interred... where I often break into tears. If for no other reason than for the peace that lays at the bottom of a valley under the distant ends of the Appalachians, all blue ridges and unfolding.
1. in this place; in this spot or locality; over here, nearer closer (opposed to there ): Put the pen here.
2. to or toward this place; hither: Come here.
3. at this point; at this juncture: Here the speaker paused.
4. used to call attention to some person or thing present, or to what the speaker has, offers, brings, or discovers: Here is your paycheck. My friend here knows the circumstances.
5. used when pointing or gesturing to indicate the place in mind: sign here
6. used to draw attention to someone or something that has just arrived: here's my brother
7. used to indicate one's role in a particular situation: I'm here to help you
8. used to refer to existence in the world in general: what are we all doing here?
9. present (used to answer a roll call).
10. in the present life or existence: We want but little here below.
11. under consideration, in this instance or case: The matter here is of grave concern to us all.
12. this place: It's only a short distance from here.
13. this world; this life; the present: The here and the hereafter are equal mysteries to all people.
14. used for emphasis, especially after a noun modified by a demonstrative adjective: this package here.
15. often used to command attention, give comfort, etc.; now; all right: Here, let me try it. Here, don't cry.
Old English her "in this place, where one puts himself," from Proto Germanic pronomial stem *hi- (from PIE *ki- "this;" see he ) + adverbial suffix r. Related to Dutch and German hier, also to he.