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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

shahid hussain

Two steps to exile

Shahid Hosain


I: Petition from the Poets of Pakistan

“No torque”. (Stanley Kunitz, American poet, on first reading Pakistani poetry in English).

“No torque.” True.
But sir, the whole contrivance
Lacks motive power. We are vast with air
And gas abounds in our inflated-soil,
But alas, the spark, the blue flicker
Exploding us to flame is obstinate,
Will not perform in this moist, corrosive clime.
We have not suffered
Internal combustion, to hurl
Piston, crankshaft and flywheel
Into muscular, slotted motion. We are picturesque
With waterwheels and lanterns, dancing
In the slow wake of buffaloes; any fierceness
Lies only in the eye of the beholder.
We are peddlers of mild words, but
Look you, Mr. Kunitz, we are
Attentive. Roar, squelch, mid-earth murmurings,
The nuclear tick of half-lives in our mines
All come humming to our working ears.
And consider what we must
Disinherit, before we lurch to utterance,
Knocking aside censers of incense, acrid
As Mace, scarecrowing a whole pantheon of birds.
We must lay ambuscadoes, come to our purpose
With much tergiversation: even our Marxists
Are coy with symbols. With such tradition,
What chances for the individual talent?
Still, we endure; still we heft our axes
Clearing a dwelling in this mangrove land.

II: Prescription

An end to all fabling. Bright
Earthen toys discomfort our grasp;
Their silver lacquer stirs
Like mucus, staining our hands
With a dead-sea glitter.
The grey trumpet on the neighbouring minaret
No longer dazzles in the tilting sun:
Dull as pewter, it withdraws
All consolation from our silting eyes.
At the corner, Mirza of the sweet mouth,
Monarch of pan -sellers
Slapping his blood-brown hands in cloudy water
Argues, resonant with new found clichés.
Shifting with anger, twists
Too much tobacco on the slate-green leaf.
Back home, my razor-creased friend
Trim with certainty, sabres the air
With honed solutions. One can see him
Wreaking that old chivalrous magic, slicing the head
In a thin bloodless line, for one flushed moment
Watching it rest, plumb and precise
Upon the martyred trunk.
Narrow times for fabulists.
Prescription: silence, exile.
And cunning.

Shahid Hosain edited, introduced and contributed to ‘First voices’, the earliest of the Oxford University Press anthologies of Pakistani poetry in English. These are the first poems he has published for thirty years.


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