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Month: January 2021

Ghazal for a Capital in Darkness

It does not freeze, but nights are cold in the capital;
brave farmers camp on the threshold of the capital.

Farm bills are passed by a voice vote, without counting;
surprising things are bought and sold in the capital.

Ministers pace and kick at walls; they remember:
we don’t always do as we are told in the capital.

The British jailed us when we spoke about freedom;
our rulers now are just as bold, in the capital.

These days, they lock students inside Tihar Jail;
dissent and thought are still controlled in the capital.

Last night, goons failed once more to clear protest sites—
the farmers’ strength is unequaled in the capital.

Why would a no-name poet sing of this darkness?
See the courage here, friends, behold: it’s our capital!

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Like That Cat, or Our Constitution,

-Republic Day, 2021

Sometimes precious things 
disappear in a moment,
like the flash and bang
of a wedding cracker
or that cat you used to feed,
caught under a swerving bus;
but sometimes they slip away slowly,
like an early morning dream
where you know you left something 
of great value in the train car 
you see sinking in the river—
a box of old family photos, 
perhaps, or the lipstick you took 
from your grandmother’s table 
on the day she died—
and you’re glad you’re safe on the shore, 
but by the time you come fully awake
you cannot remember 
where the train had been going,
what had broken the bridge, 
or how many fellow travellers
now lie beneath rushing waters.

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You’ll Join Us, I Know, My Friend

You’ll Join Us, I Know, My Friend
-for Umar Khalid

It was late in a South Delhi warehouse,
it was cold, but I didn’t feel cold;

Umar Khalid was swaying
to jazz, or was it hip hop?

I looked over his shoulder to see
the Ska Vengers laying it down,

I said, Sir, we’re so glad you’re here,
how did I miss the news?

He said, don’t call me Sir, I’m your friend,
yes, this beats Tihar Jail—

he said, soon we’ll be back in the streets;
we’re winning, we have to win.
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My Mother Calls With Her Worries

Smog has wrapped the city
like a fine wool shawl
when my mother calls to say 
she hasn’t slept in days—
because of the news on TV
and our friend who is dying.
I know she is right;
these are terrible times,
and we have both always 
struggled to calm
the warm flutter in the gut,
the sudden searing 
behind the left eye.
I tell her I love her and not to worry:
Delhi’s roads are wide enough
for farmers and tractors 
and all kinds of lovers—
we’ll plough under the wasteland, 
plant wheat and white clover.
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Lost in Translation

A rooster outside my window,
has been crowing all afternoon—

something about the thinning clouds,
or the breeze; it’s hard to tell.

They’ve arrested Munawar Faruqui
for making ‘indecent’ remarks

against a god or a devil—
or was it just Amit Shah?

They’re filling our prisons with lovers,
scholars and comedians;

if they find enough stadiums,
the farmers may well be next.

It must be hard for rulers
who fear words and love only power

to tell the difference between
laughter and hunger and sorrow.

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The Moon the MHA and Agent Orange

-a letter to W.S. Merwin

Today I am reading The Moon Before Morning 
I should have read it years ago when a friend 
gave it to me but I was lazy and anxious 
it is filled with unpunctuated invitations to pause
and shadows and sounds made by rain 
right now outside my window I hear the scratch 
of a stick broom and the shrill whine of a distant siren 
late last night clouds hid the moon and later it rained 
and this morning when I took in the newspaper
I saw I had slept through it but I remembered 
that I’d woken at dawn to warmth and the gentle 
rustle of pigeon wings and that I’d thought 
This moment is complete just as it is
yes sometimes I do remember the scent of pine 
trees and water and the feel of my grandmother’s 
hand in my hair and I wish I could return to her 
and to that place and to that time when I worried less 
yes I am reading your poems with close attention 
and I am glad you have found old trees and a quiet garden 
near a pond that greets the returning geese each year 
but outside my window a sickness has spread 
from the Ministry of Home Affairs to Northeast Delhi 
and to the forests of Jharkhand and to every place 
where people gather around TV’s radios and smartphones 
and no vaccine cooled by dry ice can stop it 
I can see from the final poems in this book that you would
understand what I am saying and also that you would remember 
what you wrote five decades ago about the Vietnam War 

When the forests have been destroyed their darkness remain

[the last line quoted here comes from an old Merwin poem, ‘The Asians Dying’]
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