by Agha Shahid Ali | | 1997
The only language of loss left in the world is Arabic.
These words were said to me in a language not Arabic.
Ancestors--you've left me a plot in the family graveyard--
Why must I look, in your eyes, for prayers in Arabic?
Majnoon, his clothes ripped, still weeps for Laila.
O, this is the madness of the desert, his crazy Arabic.
Who listens to Ishmael? Even now he cries out:
Abraham, throw away your knives, recite a psalm in Arabic.
From exile Mahmoud Darwish writes to the world:
You'll all pass between the fleeting words of Arabic.
The sky is stunned, it's become a ceiling of stone.
I tell you it must weep. So kneel, pray for rain in Arabic.
At an exhibition of miniatures, such delicate calligraphy:
Kashmiri paisleys ties into the golden hair of Arabic!
The Koran prophesied a fire of men and stones.
Well, it's all now come true, as it was said in the Arabic.
When Lorca died, they left the balconies open and saw:
his qasidas braided, on the horizon, into knots of Arabic.
Memory is no longer confused, it has a homeland--
Says Shammas: Territorialize each confusion in a graceful Arabic.
Where there were homes in Deir Yassein, you'll see dense forests--
That village was razed. There's no sign of Arabic.
I too, O Amichai, saw the dresses of beautiful women
And everything else, just like you, in Death, Hebrew, and Arabic.
They ask me to tell them what Shahid means--
Listen: it means "The Beloved" in Persian, "witness" in Arabic.
Editor's note: this Ghazal comes from the collection, "The Country Without a Post Office", by Ali, the late Kashmiri-American poet (1949-2001).