Five Poems

Nature Overwhelms

A thick film of yellow-grey slime in the air—
Autumn each year is like this—
but this time there is an added urgency,
the pollution gives me a dull headache,
sinuses inflame, temples throb,
I no longer step out, unless I must,
just sit looking out through the French windows,
as I read an anthology of poetry
on the pandemic,
and a nonfiction book
on Shaheen Bagh,
the bougainvillea is in full bloom,
pink flowers scattered
across the small lawn,

nature overwhelms, counters,
the virus is not a Chinese weapon.

The symbolic lies shattered: The symbolic is all

With my perils and those of the world
            upon me,
I am driven to terra luctus,  silence.

The symbolic lies shattered: The symbolic is all:

In the desert,
Word is with interpretation
   not people;
For the building of the nation, no city was destroyed.
People just drop dead:of pebbles birds drop from the heavens.
   There is no murder under this sky.
Interpretation claims, ‘I am killed in clashes,
   there is no genocide.’

In the plains,
Corpses swept into rivers
   and burning by the roadside seek
   hegemony over words.

But we get diegesis instead:
   ‘We are a model state,
   Those images of the dead are lies.’

Each arrest

Each arrest
      may feel
like a death knell,
every baton wielded—
the devil’s pitchfork,

I put down the paper,
look out, see a cloud,
even if this one,
may not rain,

there is water enough, still,
for a fig to grow in my yard,
discard
its dry leaves,
its fruit to ripen,

   there is hope yet,
this too may pass,

as long as
the environment
holds.

In Memoriam: Hillel, the Elder, and Bertolt Brecht

I peel a pomegranate,
Each aril a red scar,
My home is overrun,
The peril is not far.

A cold breeze blows this autumn,
The ploughman will not plant,
A harsh winter looms ahead,
The monsoon was aslant.

Our many friends are taken,
The best of us so far,
The jails are filling up fast,
Their doors kept ajar.

Reading is a sin now,
Thinking is crime,
Unless you self-censor,
Or with them only chime.

It feels like Russian Roulette,
For who shall go next?
Are you popular enough?
Do you have the right context?

They can tell by your name
you shall bleed red,
You and all your brethren
might as well be dead.

Dare you be vocal?
You are in for it then,
Law is their playmate,
Power knows no reason.

But, “If not now, when?
If not I then who?”
Will I write poems about trees,
When there are policemen in the woods?

Air Black

To Sridala Swami and Winter 2014–15

She says yesterday’s faded-denim sky
of many washes
brought down leaves that
were not choked with dust.

My sky today was a crumpled khakhi
with dirt like the Sirocco’s,
but without its strong breeze,
only its dust.

Her dust-free leaves flew around,
settled on the ground, were
picked up again,
by the wind, and made
patterns, murmurations,
did rounds.

No current moves the cloud
settled over our heads here.
The leaf my nephew picks up, and navigates
around, playing with it like a plane
in his hand, will not lose that
film
of dust,
that’s settled!

Delhi is one thick haze
of that cheap opium den,
where everyone’s an addict
of toxic scum.

First published in Muse India

Maaz Bin Bilal is the author of the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar-shortlisted Ghazalnama: Poems for Delhi, Belfast, and Urdu (Yoda Press, 2019), and the translator of Fikr Taunsvi's Chhata Darya as The Sixth River (Speaking Tiger, 2019) and Mirza Ghalib's Chiragh-e-Dair (forthcoming from Penguin, July 2022). He was a Charles Wallace Fellow in Writing and Translation in Wales (2019), and is an associate professor of literary studies at Jindal Global University.