Requeim for Agha Shahid Ali (d Dec 2001)

'Esenin was a lyrical poet but the times weren't lyrical' - Trotsky


You prod me into speech
I wipe the dusty writing pad
to scratch this
as autumn's red scratches a leaf-vein
in your poem        As in life
A tumour itched your brain


It is Eid
The season of feasting after long lament
Today in Kashmir, no one will feast
The river frozen this December
Will thaw in spring
They will bury you in a strange graveyard
Your exile complete
Your dust will mingle with Dickinson's dust


Dickinson, that strange spinster of Amherst
Who went round and round her attic
A strange shape
Who went round her own poems
You wished to let her enter your poem
Now you two are one with dust

Agha Shahid, let me be your spinster nun


Akhmatova was condemned
as half-whore / half-nun
Esenin wrote his last poem in blood
            before he hanged himself
Mandelstam was driven mad
We who read you on Kashmir
Only last month froze in our marrow
                        at your words
Now we share your glossy stare in death
The river will forever be frozen
                    It will not thaw again


I remember teaching A Country without a Post Office
to grown men and women who wept
But at your heart's core was ice
No fire could melt
Only a lover's cry
And you wandering sufi moaned
to the highest heaven for your love
which in this life, like all of us
                you did not find
'I have to see you    I have to see you'
                        you urgently said to me
Who did not take that flight
Who threw written letters of denial away
Who filed no lies / catalogued no hurt
Now Shahid, I'm your witness
                    I'm a witness to your love

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