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Month: April 2020

A Map of Our Love and a Promise

Somewhere today, 
a baby conceived on the eve 
of the abrogation will be born;

just think of all the hatred, hunger, 
violence and courage we’ve seen 
in the past 38 long weeks—

what stories will we tell this child 
when she’s old enough to hear them?
Yes, her mother carried her 

through dark times, and she 
was born into darker times, still.
But the late April breeze 

was cool that night,
and though the May sun
would be unforgiving,

we promised to fan her,
to love and to stand with
her and her siblings,

and cousins and classmates—
and all of her friends
and all of her neighbors—

and all of the people 
in the land she called home,  
and all of the people beyond it.
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Let’s Not Forget What’s Coming Next

‘In the FIR, the police claimed that the communal violence 
was a “premeditated conspiracy” which was allegedly hatched 
by Mr. Khalid and two others.’ -The Hindu

This world is built on sand and silt,
dark clouds are hanging low;

how many go to sleep hungry
for food or distant homes?

Meanwhile police investigate
fantasies and dreams;

they target those who think and speak,
ignore the real crimes.

To slow this virus, we will keep
our distance, friends, for now,

but when this sickness passes,  we’ll 
make tyrants scrape and bow. 
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Refuge of the World

-Jahanpanah, 1341

Smoke drifts in from camps
where starving men stew
animal hides and rotten meat.
 
The sultan is angry; 
the traveler is put under guard—
he fasts for nine days, reciting,
 
Allah is sufficient for us,
and most excellent is the Protector.
Freed, he finds an excuse to move on.  

On the day I took you there,
a light rain calmed the flies,
and mist masked the smoke that

rose from nearby camps and cars.
There were no children playing
on the muddy field below us,

but near the top of a crumbling 
tower, young men smoked, 
drunk beer and laughed.

A thousand pillars have fallen and rotted, 
leaving only stones, sod and soil. 
We lost so much in one short year: 

your sister, my niece, some of our 
faith in the future of love and freedom.
The city is locked, we cannot go back—

I searched, but found only this:
the Refuge of the World has fallen
we must build a new refuge, my friends.

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How Many, How Long?

How many summers have come
since Harappa and Mohenjo-daro 
faded or fell? 

We’ve all heard the story:
a rivers runs dry or changes course, 
a new pestilence rides into town,

crops wither in baking fields.
Each time it happens must 
seem like the first time—

hungry families camp outside 
city gates or scatter like tumbleweed
towards faraway forests or hills

while rulers pace and wonder 
how long their guards will hold.

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Suddenly, Rage


In life, there are times like this 
when suddenly we can no longer do
many of the things we once could—

maybe you’re missing a strong drink 
and friends, and you’re sick of Netflix
and your bad internet connection,

or maybe your father keeps falling 
because he refuses to stop standing 
on chairs to reach for high things,

and now there are no trains to take 
you home, so you wait each day
for news of his next sudden fall.

Or maybe you live on a construction site 
far from your village, and you suddenly 
lose your job and can’t reach your family,

and one day, after waiting for hours 
for rations, someone announces,
Sorry, there is no more to give today,

and you think, and maybe you shout,
This has nothing to do with giving,
they’ve taken our jobs and our families!

And maybe on FB, someone will complain,
It is so hard, but what good comes 
from anger? We are doing our best.

And maybe we will half-remember 
an old song or poem or prayer 
and suddenly it will become clear:

For everything there is season: a time 
for vexation and sorrow and sharing—
and also a time for rage!

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Small Confession


I just finished the story by Perumal Murugan
where a chair comes between a loving couple;
it’s not controversial—

there’s no intercaste marriage or infidelity, 
nothing to offend anyone’s sensibilities 
or to provoke the police, a court, 

or a right wing mob to ban or burn any books, 
or to threaten a mild-mannered author 
with damnation or bodily harm—

there’s just a man, a woman, 
and a chair that slowly drives them apart. 
Of course, the chair is a metaphor 

for patriarchy and other problems 
that inevitably come with modernity—
like the wailing toilet in another 

Murugan story, or this phone I use
to talk with the people I love,
and also to avoid them.

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This Virus Is a Beginning, Not the End


Friends, more than one plague
    is loose in the land—

yes, there’s the new virus,
    but please understand

there are older plagues, too—
    and all plagues are connected—

ignorance, caste,
    exploitation and hatred.

When we all grasp together
    the great power we hold,

we’ll make tyrants tremble,
    we’ll heal this world.

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