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Walled City: A Qasida Cycle

Qasida of the water pipe’s gurgle on a starry night


Midnight alley, the poet watches jinn silhouetted

in pursuit of jinn on slim ledges of balconies—

secrets leaking like watered-down ink—

In the walled city, a bone-biting winter night

never comes without the witness of coal,

brass pots and the nightly haleem cooked

by the same Mughal family for generations

The poet is wearing a coat lined with leopard skin

In his courtyard, a freshened water pipe, a divan,

promises made on a walk along a German river.


Qasida of time stretched like leather on a drum


Poet at home with the cosmic rolling pin

that shapes lunar light into bread, at home

with galaxies aligning to pave a path from afterlife

to Lahore— for his poet-fathers Rumi and Goethe.

Iqbal, hand resting on jaw bone, dreams of paradise

as an essence contoured by poetry—

where Goethe reads Faust to Rumi

and Rumi proclaims him brother,

knower of the Great Mystery— This is prime

property, this neighborhood of the mystics—


Qasida of Exile


Young Rumi on horseback

recalls the hoopoe’s cinnamon crest in the story

of Suleiman, Bilal the noble muezzin’s tearful glance

at the date palm by which the beloved no longer stood.

Nishapur miles away, Rome farther yet, the boy will raise

both his arms to fight the flurry of thoughts of home

in the stranglehold of Mongol smoke, charred cypress

elms, vultures. He will learn to rip away the blinding curtain

of worry from his eyes and see the festive cactus, cherry,

and wild walnut, hear in the ringdove a universe of laughter

Qasida of Second Chances

A fugitive flower of a poodle at the door, he Is really

the devil peddling a crystal mind with a blood pact

Transcendence, just around the corner, hidden

in a box tree hedge not far from Faust’s door.

It is after the devil has driven a dagger through a newborn

that your quivering book will be laid to rest, Goethe.

Book two opens in a field awakened by agate light. Poet,

you fought and won half the bet— Act V will have

angels declaring: “He who strives on and lives to strive

Can earn redemption still.”


Qasida of Poets Meeting by Roshnaai Gate

Roshnaai, meaning both light and ink, most radiant

of Lahore’s thirteen gates. If you could author a balcony

for a meeting with Rumi and Goethe, it would be here—

travel by boat, travel by the timeless call of the nai

which tunnels desire for the one, the pulse

of circumambulation, melody of windows wide open

from Balkh and Weimar to the rings of Saturn. A partridge

alights on your shoulder, Iqbal. The ice skirting your lighthouse

of philosophy is melting under the feet of your poets.

You are walking by your own ancient river, nai in hand.




























Posted 02/22/16
This qasida-cycle is based on the Urdu/Persian poet Muhammad Iqbal's work "Payaam e Mashriq" in which he celebrates Rumi and Goethe as his spiritual forebears. He dreams of the them meeting in paradise.
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