In Another Country
for Agha Shahid Ali
In Kashmir, half-asleep, Mother listens to the rain.
In Manhattan, I feel her presence in the rain.
A rooster precedes the Call to Prayer at Dawn:
God is a namedropper: all names at once in the rain.
Forsythias shrivel in a glass vase on her nightstand.
On my windowsills, wilted petals, a petulance in the rain.
She must wonder when I will put on the kettle,
butter the crumpets, observe silence in the rain.
She veils her hair, offers a prayer across the oceans,
water on my hands becomes a reverence in the rain.
At Jewel House in Srinagar, Mother reshapes my ghazal.
“No enjambments!” she says as I listen in the rain.
“Rafiq,” I hear her call above the city din.
The kettle whistles: Mother’s scent in the rain.
Starting my Descent
After a bomb rips the baggage claim
I sprout wings running on the tarmac.
Single file khakis blurring smashed
gold of mustard flowers. My legs
collapse. I roar over tips of poplars, follow
the Jhelum upstream where Mother
kneeling at the river’s source tears open
a pomegranate with bare hands. “Rubies
from my dowry stolen by the in-laws.”
Her dupatta undulates and she floats away
reclined on the veil. I give chase, soaring
above the Himalayas, depression fuming
over the Pacific. I am the pallor of twilight
starting my descent. A sign rises to greet me —
The Gilded Cage For The Deranged.
“Wait,” a nurse says as I search for Mother.
“Why aren’t you already where you’re going?”