Tabish Khair Poems

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1.
Amma

Down the stairs of this house where plaster flakes and falls,
Through the intimate emptiness of its rooms and hall,
I hear your slow footsteps, grandmother, echo or pause
...

2.
Almost Sonnet

At one instant it seemed to be within my grasp:
Your love was a jewel I could reach out and feel.
It made me come alive as nothing had before;
I felt no need to keep it in a selfish clasp.
...

3.
Rumi And The Reed

Listen to the song of the reed flute:
It sings of separation.
Torn from the leaf-layered, wind-voiced
Banks of the pond,
...

4.
Prayer

Grant me a little child
I can hide
When the mullahs come home to pray,
When planes are birds of prey.
...

5.
Homily

She knows it's neither strange nor hard
To raise children on graveyards.
...

6.
Immigrant

It hurts to walk on new legs:
The curse of consonants, the wobble of vowels.
...

7.
Nurse's Tales, Retold

ecause the east wind bears the semen smell of rain,
A warm smell like that of shawls worn by young women
Over a long journey of sea, plain and mountains,
The peacock spreads the Japanese fan of its tail and dances,
...

8.
The Soldier Home From Iraq

What could I do being what I was:
Saviour of old women, their killer too.
On my chest there sat a big dog;
...

9.
RUMI AND THE REED

Listen to the song of the reed flute:
It sings of separation.
Torn from the leaf-layered, wind-voiced
Banks of the pond,
It is joined to sorrow and joy
By a slender sound.
Who, asked Rumi, can understand
The reed's longing to return?
Let its raw lips rest then;
Let all words be brief then.

And I, O Believers, cried Rumi
(Having lost the man he loved),
I who am not of the East
Nor of the West, un-Christian,
Not Muslim or Jew, neither
Born of Adam nor Eve,
What can I love but the world itself,
What can I kiss but flesh?
Let my raw lips rest then;
Let all words be brief.
...

10.
NURSE'S TALES, RETOLD

Because the east wind bears the semen smell of rain,
A warm smell like that of shawls worn by young women
Over a long journey of sea, plain and mountains,
The peacock spreads the Japanese fan of its tail and dances,
And dances until it catches sight of its scaled and ugly feet.

Because the koel cannot raise its own chicks —
Nature's fickle mother who leaves her children on doorsteps
In the thick of nights, wrapped in controversy and storm —
Because the koel will remain eternally young, untied,
It fills the long and empty afternoons with sad and sweet songs.

Because the rare Surkhaab loves but once, marries for life,
The survivor circles the spot of its partner's death uttering cries,
Until, shot by kind hunters or emaciated by hunger and loss,
It falls to the ground, moulting feathers, searching for death.
O child, my nurse had said, may you never see a Surkhaab die.
...

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