— Agha Shahid Ali reading “Of It All”
I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.
God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—
All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.
Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.
Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.
He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.
First song of autumn
Joy of my days, come
watch me run
I’ve bought white shoes
and see-through eagle’s wings
I am the clarinet’s mouth
and you the ransomed player
Kneel and guzzle me, set
the sea’s taste in my throat
and make my breast a wave
upon whose mane the sun
The grey ships come from the north,
The snow-white ships come from the pole,
The ships of the south are all broken down.
O Harbourmaster sitting on the cloudbanks,
O Harbourmaster walking on the water,
Tell those leaping on the equator line
How their flesh might turn to wood,
How their bones might turn to steel,
Until from out their bodies comes a ship
Its black pushing through the swell.
The men of this city make animal
sounds as if to say
I got a slaughter with your neck
on it now how
you gonna walk with your psst-psst hidden
all your psst-psst hiding
and my tick-tick pointing
pants how now you gonna walk two-legged
with my panting your
stiff sniffable neck and my smick-smack with my
bone back watching—
.Can’t occupy the same space at the same time
unless, of course, you land in Dhaka, rickshaws
five or six abreast. They are all here:
studded metal backboards ablaze with red flowers,