Mimi Khalvati Poems

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Ghazal: In Silence

Let them be, the battles you fought, in silence.
Bury your shame, the worst you thought, in silence.

At last my Beloved has haggled with death.

Ghazal: It's Heartache

When you wake to jitters every day, it's heartache.
Ignore it, explore it, either way it's heartache.

Youth's a map you can never refold,
from Yokohama to Hudson Bay, it's heartache.

Follow the piper, lost on the road,
whistle the tune that led him astray: it's heartache.

Stop at the roadside, name each flower,
the loveliness that will always stay: it's heartache.

Why do nightingales sing in the dark?
Ask the radif, it will only say ‘it's heartache'.

Let khalvati, ‘a quiet retreat',
close my ghazal and heal as it may its heartache.


I have landed
as if on the wing
of a small plane.

It is a song I have
landed on that barely
feels my weight.

Sky is thick with wishes.
Regrets fall down
like rain.

Visit me.
I am always in
even when the place

looks empty,
even though the locks
are changed.


No one is there for you. Don't call, don't cry.
No one is in. No flurry in the air.
Outside your room are floors and doors and sky.

Clocks speeded, slowed, not for you to question why,
tick on. Trust them. Be good, behave. Don't stare.
No one is there for you. Don't call, don't cry.

Cries have their echoes, echoes only fly
back to their pillows, flocking back from where
outside your room are floors and doors and sky.

Imagine daylight. Daylight doesn't lie.
Fool with your shadows. Tell you nothing's there,
no one is there for you. Don't call, don't cry.

But daylight doesn't last. Today's came by
to teach you the dimensions of despair.
Outside your room are floors and doors and sky.

Learn, when in turn they turn to you, to sigh
and say: You're right, I know, life isn't fair.
No one is there for you. Don't call, don't cry.
Outside your room are floors and doors and sky.

Picking Raspberries with Mowgli

It was when he leant close to me,
his little naked torso, brown and thin,
reaching an arm into the cage
of raspberries, that I snatched a kiss.

The raspberries smelled of rosemary
and among them grew the odd sweetpea.
Do you know why they're called sweetpeas?
Mowgli asked - No, I said, why?

Because look, he said, fingering
a thin pale pod, this is the fruit
and this is the flower and inside the pod
are peas. Mowgli looked inside things.

Inside the sieve, a baby spider
trailing a thread his finger trailed
up, over, under the mounting pile
he prodded. Inside the fruit, the seed.

Don't pick the ones with the white bits,
Mowgli ordered, they taste horrid.
Sun tangled in the row of canes,
cobwebs blurred the berries. Mowgli

progressed to the apples - small
bitter windfalls. I'm going to test them,
he said, for smashes. And again,
I'm going to test them for bruises. Mowgli

throwing apples against the wall,
missing the wall, high up in the air;
Mowgli squatting, examining
for the smallest hint of decay

and chucking them if they failed the test,
healthy raspberries; Mowgli
balancing on a rake, first thing
in the morning, grinning shyly.


for Telajune

Beyond the view of crossroads ringed with breath
her bed appears, the old-rose covers death
has smoothed and stilled; her fingers lie inert,
her nail-file lies beside her in its sheath.

The morning's work over, her final chore
was 'breaking up the sugar' just before
siesta, sitting crosslegged on the carpet,
her slippers lying neatly by the door.

The image of her room behind the pane,
though lost as the winding road shifts its plane,
returns on every straight, like signatures
we trace on glass, forget and find again.

I have inherited her tools: her anvil,
her axe, her old scrolled mat, but not her skill;
and who would choose to chip at sugar-blocks
when sugar-cubes are boxed beside the till?

The scent of lilacs from the road reminds me
of my own garden: a neighbouring tree
grows near the fence. At night its clusters loom
like lantern-moons, pearly-white, unearthly.

I don't mind that the lilac's roots aren't mine.
Its boughs are, and its blooms. It curves its spine
towards my soil and litters it with dying
stars: deadheads I gather up like jasmine.

My grandmother would rise and take my arm,
then sifting through the petals in her palm
would place in mine the whitest of them all:
'Salaam, dokhtare-mahe-man, salaam!'

'Salaam, my daughter-lovely-as-the-moon!'
Would that the world could see me, Telajune,
through your eyes! Or that I could see a world
that takes such care to tend what fades so soon.


Even the vine-leaves shot with sun
have shadow leaves
pressed close on them.

Even the vine is hanging
ones that seem like twos:
a top leaf
on a shadow leaf, its corner slipped,
like invoices in duplicate.

If I stood to look from the other side
with the light behind me,
would I still not see
how the top leaf shot with sun
might be the one that fails to fit
its duplicate

instead of
- standing where I do - seeing
how it is the shadow leaf that fails to fit
and failing

makes the one leaf seem like two
and being two, more beautiful?

from Entries on Light

Scales are evenly
weighed, inside
outside. Light is
evenly poised
− blur to the gold
glare to the blue −
it's twilight.
In two minds.

Who can read by
a lamp, focus
land's outline?
But blue soon
sinks and gold
rises. Who
can stay the balance
if light can't?


Mr Khalvati? Larger than life he was;
too large to die so they wired him up on a bed.
Small as a soul he is on the mountain ledge.

Lids gone thin as a babe's. If it's mist he sees
it's no mist he knows by name. Can you hear me,
Mr Khalvati? Larger than life he was

and the death he dies large as the hands that once
drowned mine and the salt of his laugh in the wave.
Small as a soul he is on the mountain ledge.

Can you squeeze my hand? (Ach! Where are the hands
I held in mine to pull me back to the baize?)
Mr Khalvati? Larger than life he was

with these outstretched hands that squeezing squeeze
thin air. Wired he is, tired he is and there,
small as a soul he is on the mountain ledge.

No nudging him out of the nest. No one to help him
fall or fly, there's no coming back to the baize.
Mr Khalvati? Larger than life he was.
Small as a soul he is on the mountain ledge.


It's a night for nostalgia he said.
I felt I was missing something, some
echo of nights we must have shared
in separate alleyways, far off home

rain drew him back to, or clouds,
or the particular light behind rain.
I was nostalgic for words, last words
of a poem I would read on the train.

There was a power cut today. I lit
three candles, ate lamb and read
by candlelight. The beauty of it
was too lonely so I went to bed.

It rained then. In the daylight dark.
I lay there till I heard a click
and voices. When the lights came back
it was like a conjuring trick -

there they were, the animated creatures
of my life I had thought inanimate
objects. And I was the one conjured
out of their dream of a dark planet.

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