Black and white image of the destruction in Homs, Syria

Ghazal by Agha Shahid Ali

A teacher shared this poem with me in college, and I never forgot it. I thought I’d share it with you tonight:

Feel the patient’s heart
Pounding—oh please, this once—
—JAMES MERRILL

I’ll do what I must if I’m bold in real time.
A refugee, I’ll be paroled in real time.

 

Cool evidence clawed off like shirts of hell-fire?
A former existence untold in real time …

 

The one you would choose: Were you led then by him?
What longing, O Yaar, is controlled in real time?

 

Each syllable sucked under waves of our earth—
The funeral love comes to hold in real time!

They left him alive so that he could be lonely—
The god of small things is not consoled in real time.

 

Please afterwards empty my pockets of keys—
It’s hell in the city of gold in real time.

 

God’s angels again are—for Satan!—forlorn.
Salvation was bought but sin sold in real time.

 

And who is the terrorist, who the victim?
We’ll know if the country is polled in real time.

 

“Behind a door marked DANGER” are being unwound
the prayers my friend had enscrolled in real time.

 

The throat of the rearview and sliding down it
the Street of Farewell’s now unrolled in real time.

 

I heard the incessant dissolving of silk—
I felt my heart growing so old in real time.

 

Her heart must be ash where her body lies burned.
What hope lets your hands rake the cold in real time?

 

Now Friend, the Belovèd has stolen your words—
Read slowly: The plot will unfold in real time.

 

(for Daniel Hall)

 

 

NOTES: Yaar: Hindi word for friend.

Agha Shahid Ali, “Ghazal” from Rooms Are Never Finished. Copyright © 2002 by Agha Shahid Ali. Reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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