Today’s poem is a ghazal. This is an Arabic form of poetry made of couplets. The first two lines have a rhyming refrain, which is repeated in the second line of all subsequent couplets. (Notice how “kissed” is rhymed with throughout the poem before “land.”) In the last stanza, the poet often refers to himself somehow. Agha Shahid Ali is the master of this form.
I love how this poem uses the idea of homeland and place as a common human factor despite the vast differences in politics, religion, and culture across the globe.
by Agha Shahid Ali
For Christopher Merrill
Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land—
There is no sugar in the promised land.
Why must the bars turn neon now when, Love,
I’m already drunk in your capitalist land?
If home is found on both sides of the globe,
home is of course here—and always a missed land.
The hour’s come to redeem the pledge (not wholly?)
in Fate’s “Long years ago we made a tryst” land.
Clearly, these men were here only to destroy,
a mosque now the dust of a prejudiced land.
Will the Doomsayers die, bitten with envy,
when springtime returns to our dismissed land?
The prisons fill with the cries of children.
Then how do you subsist, how do you persist, Land?
“Is my love nothing for I’ve borne no children?”
I’m with you, Sappho, in that anarchist land.
A hurricane is born when the wings flutter …
Where will the butterfly, on my wrist, land?
You made me wait for one who wasn’t even there
though summer had finished in that tourist land.
Do the blind hold temples close to their eyes
when we steal their gods for our atheist land?
Abandoned bride, Night throws down her jewels
so Rome—on our descent—is an amethyst land.
At the moment the heart turns terrorist,
are Shahid’s arms broken, O Promised Land?