Agha Shahid Ali (4 February 1949 – 8 December 2001 / New Delhi / India)
In the mirror, the hand hacks at my skin
It belongs to the child who used his father's
blades for sharpening pencils, playing murder.
Full of cuts, I have the blood-effacing
instruments: water, water, and survival
tricks : I'm as clean
as glass, my brown face glistens
with oil, turns a fine olive green.
There's no return
to the sanctuary
of ripped paper-boat-journeys
This is morning, I must
scrub myself. A college lecturer, I smell of talcum
Old Spice and unwritten poems.
The mirror smiles back like a forgotten student:
The hairs die like ants in the basin.
My reflection gathers the night's dust,
I wipe it with the morning towels.
The girls drape their muslin shawls,
their necks turn on Isadora's wheels:
In the classroom I shuffle like unrhymed poetry
The blade, wet with Essenin's wrist,
waits with the unwritten poem.
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