Poems

Father in Gaza



Your home to which you return
is now a tower block of blown-out

eye sockets, nightmarish, stooping
over the vast field of concrete,

bleeding the voices of children
who once held these hands.

Hands now clearing rubble, brick, bone,
teeth and toys. Dolls with missing limbs,

and bullet –holed belly buttons,
their faces grey with grime, dust, ash and blood.

A father rescues a doll’s face to reveal
a plastic smile mimicking his own.

(published by Writers Without Borders, 2015)







Back Yard


Every summer
on a Saturday morning
you bathed us in the back yard
of our tiny terraced house.

We had pink Lux, a bucket, a sponge and a jug.
The sun would dry the suds on our skin
that would stick like glue and make us white.
Bubbles were bigger than our house.

You rinsed us and then we were brown again.
We sat towel wrapped in the sun
and shivered while droplets fell onto our flip flops.
Smiles were bigger than our house.

(published by Writers Without Borders, 2015)





After the Explosion


Severed limbs, still marked
with honeymoon kisses,
re-attach with rough seams.
She gives herself a new blood supply.

Like a corpse revived
or a post-stroke patient
or a traumatised soldier
she learns to speak and walk again.


(published by Writers Without Borders, 2015)



Rooftops

The balcony is dotted with green spit stains;
the gush of monsoons will wash these away.
Women lean over, resting their bosoms,
loosely wrapped with yellow and milkshake pinks,
careless strings on their backs,
ruffled hair smelling of stale aftershave.

Mouths like peaches, red from chewing paan
blow ringlets of smoke into the smoggy sky.
Cigarettes: their reward from trouser pockets
checked by doubting hands of wives every night.
Some spit sipari like loveless thrusts of hungry men. 

Hennaed feet tap to Asha Bhosle;
hips bruised by foreign fingers sway for more
to feed the babies, now asleep, next door.
The Azaan calls men to prayer
while some enter through creaking doors.


(Published in The Bolton Review, issue 2, 
January 2015)
 





The Throne


He hits me hard on the palm of my hand
with the stick, for not saying
‘Salaam, Molvi Sahab’.

I sit in pain, blinking back my tears
so no one laughs. They’re all looking:
I open the Qur’an and recite.

He disappears after Saima leaves.
Zenab says that he takes out his brown slug
which slowly grows,

his beard twitches
and his eyes roll up as he breathes fast,
half-naked in the Wazu area.

We’re chanting words of ‘The Throne’
His throne remains empty for a long time
but like God, he’s still here.

We’re reciting verses that instruct
distance between man and woman;
man and girl.


(published in In Protest: 150 poems for human rights, 
by The University of London & Human Rights Commission, 2013)




A Book Closer to Home.


Every Saturday mum took us to the library.
We dispersed into different parts of the room,
craving this yellow smell of bound paper
and a peep into lives we did not live -
where tea was not chai, but dinner.

Mum sat in the Urdu section,
soon dissolving into a magazine
full of squiggles that only made sense to her. 
Her large almond eyes smiled.
Her soft fingers turned the pages,
pausing while she glanced at us with motherly duty.

We sat with our books on the carpeted floor,
following the curves and lines of English
with our fingertips,
the red signs on the mahogany shelves
silencing our tongues.

(published by Bloodaxe, Out of Bounds, 2012)



Visiting Time

An amoeba-shaped stain
on the bleached sheet
beneath your swollen thighs
increases in size.

The curtains enclose you; the midwife
whose hands you know so well
helps to latch your new-born to your
burning breast.

With each suck, your womb contracts.
You cry; she thinks you’re in pain
passing you a pain-killer
on a surgical silver tray.

You do not hear your child,
only the cooing voices
of fathers, in Ward 5.

(published in Poetry Review, 
volume 102:4 winter 2012)




To Lahore 

It was December.
I was eleven, sitting in a cold train.
Two windows to my left were missing.
I was thirsty and all I could have was water or chai.

Chai lo chai lo chai!

A dirty cup with frothy milky tea
was handed to me from the platform,
by a young frail boy, which my mother pushed away.

I wanted it so that he could have the money.
When she looked away I passed him a Rupee
which my naani gave me. He smiled and kissed it.

At the next station, a small, brown bony hand
touched my arm that worked with a begging voice –
a sweet voice like my baby sister’s.
The other hand was missing.

I was scared. I woke my mum but my eyes
met the begger’s first - empty and sad but firm.

Bibi ! pese do pese 
      do pesa!

My mum covered my eyes.
I pushed her hands away to see the train full
of begging amputees -

an arm, a leg, a hand missing.
money flying into their laps.
In the distance I heard

Chai lo chai lo chai!

I did not have a Rupee left.

(published by Stand Magazine, March 2012)






Starching

She empties the rice into a colander,
collects the water in a bowl, lets it cool.
The wash area is a tap, a hosepipe, a bowl and a drain.

We sit on stools made of weaved nylon.
She soaks the cotton shalwar kameez
in the milky bowl swirling it with her brown hands,
then squeezing it; I see her discoloured and brittle fingernails.

The clothes look sticky; the starch looks like
wallpaper paste pooling onto the blue mosaic tiles beneath us.
She then rinses the garments three times under the tap.

We hang them up to dry in February’s breeze
and then sit inside so that I can smooth her hands
with whatever I can find: a forgotten bottle of Nivea cream.


(published  by Stand magazine, March 2012)




Muli ki Roti

      ~ Roti of radish ~

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