Moniza Alvi Poems

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Presents From My Aunts In Pakistan

They sent me a salwar kameez
                  and another
   glistening like an orange split open,

I Would Like To Be A Dot In A Painting By Miro

I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.

Barely distinguishable from other dots,
it's true, but quite uniquely placed.


I envied my wife her nightly visions.
She'd lay each one proudly on the bed

like a plump, iridescent fish,


We had waited through so many lifetimes
for the stone to speak, wondered if

it would make compelling pronouncements,
anything worth writing down.

Then after the war of wars
had ground to a shattering halt, the stone

emitted a small grinding sound rather like
the clearing of a throat.

Let us be indifferent to indifference,
the stone said.

And then the world spoke.


I observed that her knuckles were raw
with the effort of knocking on doors.

And if they opened she'd have difficulty
passing through - the awkwardness

of easing in with her world intact.
More than once I implored her to give up.

But I admired my wife, in a way -
the single-mindedness, her fierce pursuit.

She worked attentively, whenever she could,
at her listening skills, honing them

by day and night
on the creaking of a far-off door.


Part 4: Ever After

Ever after
she heard it as an echo

in her inner ear, disembodied,
as, in a sense, all voices are -

We'll take him, Shakira.
He can travel with us.

You've enough on your hands
with the other four.

There are places still
on the second bus, inshallah!

At that swollen moment
there was a shadowy unburdening

because at that time, perhaps
any child was a burden.

How she would wish
as the weeks and the months

and the lifetimes churned on
to undo Take him,

to force back the heavy, rusted
hands of the clock -

God's clock held by God's hands
in permanent view.


Say your goodbyes, ticked the clock.
No time to lose.

But who was left for goodbyes -
her Hindu friends, the friends of friends?

A stream drying up.


How to say it?

It was hard to sit on a cane-seated chair
on her old verandah and sip tea,

the conversation curdling
like milk for the weekly paneer.

Tomorrow we will be gone.

The risk of departing
and the risk of remaining

weighing much the same.


Was the worst goodbye to the house?

The house was her second skin,
hardier than her first,

an island in the deafening, tumultuous sea.

She was married to its daily rhythms -
the kneading, the sweeping, the praying . . .

Under duress,
it was dauntingly calm.


And Ludhiana itself, the Old City
and the New -

the Civil Lines with their flowering trees.
The Christian Medical Hospital.

The cloth factories and the temples.
The neighbourliness of the lanes. Her lanes.

Bleeding internally, the city
tried to appear whole

for a final goodbye -


as, they would gather and wait
appear whole

under Hindu sun and Moslem rain
Hindu rain and Moslem sun.


Nothing was wrong with the clock.
The clock ticked on.

Less, much less

He hardly spoke any words
only two — 
or you could call it one

the last thing
he said
was bye-bye

veined and hairlike
with interlocking barbules

of  sound
the bye-bye trapped
a breath of air

the two linked words
drifted out
on a calm lake

that lay there
with a single purpose — 
to receive final words

and allow them
to drift on its surface
out and further out

on the lake of  thought
and composure
encircled by mountains

the simple phrase
soared upwards
to the highest peak

where it would be planted
like a flag
would eventually be enshrined

each identical word carefully
balanced either side
of the invisible join — 

like baby talk
he put equal emphasis
on each word

his face was pinched
and his bird beak
very prominent

there have never been
two joined words
with so much space around them

pack up all my cares and woes
light the light
I'll arrive late tonight

blackbird bye bye


17 And Where?

Pakistan! the crowd roared.
Pakistan Zindabad! Long live Pakistan!

This country - her country.
A nation in its instability,

one that could change lives
with the suddenness of a blow to the head.

And Jinnah - his photograph was everywhere,
in the newspaper, on crumbling walls.

Jinnah, in his elegant Western-style suit.
As handsome as Nehru, she thought,

but too thin. He was ill -
some said he was dying.

Jinnah who'd had his doubts,
had once striven for unity,

but who now stood supreme,
the Father of the Nation

A state in which we could live and breathe
as free men…

Mohammed Ali Jinnah. And her lost son.
At rest in the afternoon, or on waking

she might picture them both,
one superimposed on the other.


Her country, and the other. The border
tantalisingly close.

At first easy to cross, no passports required.
Then increasingly hard.

The ever-disputed border.

18 Partition of Hearts

They called it the Partition of Hearts,
this dark side of Independence.

Blame the British, blame Congress,
blame Nehru, blame Jinnah.

But what was the point?

They called it the Partition of Hearts.

Yet connections had not been broken,
not quite -

between Pakistan and India
the living and the dead

the families and the missing
the people and themselves.

They called it the Partition of Hearts -
this Partition of reinforced glass.

The Sari

Inside my mother
I peered through a glass porthole.
The world beyond was hot and brown.

They were all looking in on me -
Father, Grandmother,
the cook's boy, the sweeper-girl,
the bullock with the sharp
the local politicians.

My English grandmother
took a telescope
and gazed across continents.

All the people unravelled a sari.
It stretched from Lahore to Hyderabad,
wavered across the Arabian Sea,
shot through with stars,
fluttering with sparrows and quails.
They threaded it with roads,
undulations of land.

they wrapped and wrapped me in it
whispering Your body is your country.

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