Two Poems

By Semeen Ali

1. Hunting for a Self

If it wasn’t enough
The dogs decided to hold an opera
Howling away at the dead of the night
They brought the wind as an audience with them
The lifeless forms of the moths
Fluttered as if to write
A new story – where they merged with the light

The tent flapped
What was the noise that came from beyond?
Someone had called out her name
Such a familiar voice
Such a familiar name…

Scores of tents
East to west
North to south
Logs of woods carried on shoulders
New arrivals
New tents
New ten-ants

Time had set out on a journey
There were no followers this time
Those who had once followed
sat on the grains of time hollow-eyed
Trying to search for their versions

Shall I set foot on that ground that ceases to be mine?

Stories that ran through empty rooms
Picking up readers as they vaporised

Who will look for me?

These stories that held me together
Flesh and bone have now reduced me to ashes
I live in those ashes
Searching for a familiar voice

That familiar name…

Hunting for a Self – looks at the idea of migration and how one’s identity is tied up to the place one comes from. How that gets displaced/misplaced as one tries to adjust in a new environment.

2. To the Promised Land

Sit on my shoulders
Do not look down
The mud that now dirties my shalwar
It used to be mine
I lived here
I grew up here
I belonged here
The banyan tree that sought me out for stories
Has fallen asleep
has closed its eyes, maybe

Sit on my shoulders
Do not look down
We pass by the trenches
The bodies that hugged us
Now cold- are about to be buried or burnt
Some ignored
How many to be sent to heaven
The countless bodies
All known and yet unknown
A mother is casting her eyes on her child
For one last time
Searing the memory in her heart.

My shawl is slipping from my shoulders
Do not tell me when it falls
It belongs here
Do not look down

Close your eyes
If possible close your ears
Close your self
From everything around you
The cries that you hear
The smoke that you smell
The cartwheels that trudge along the familiar trees
The trains that everyone is scrambling towards
Are no proof of the heartache that resides in each of us
A common pathosis we all suffer from.

Let me walk as long as I can
I will carry you away from all of this
To the Promised Land

The walk continues
The geography changes
The heartache remains
Follows them
The father sees, hears
The daughter unseen and unheard
Hidden beneath a shawl
Nothing has changed
The promise was a lie.

To The Promised Land– is a poem that imagines the plight/condition of the people who uprooted themselves from India in the hope to create a new world in the Promised Land ( Pakistan) and how that dream shattered as the Muslims who came to Pakistan were termed as Muhajirs and continued to fight for a space/ their rights in the new land.

Semeen Ali is the author of four books of poetry and has edited a few poetry anthologies with national and international publishers. She reviews books for leading Indian journals as well as is the Fiction and Poetry editor at Muse India.

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