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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Honored Guest
Alamgir Hashmi



Alamgir Hashmi has published eleven books of poetry and several volumes of literary criticism in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, India, Pakistan, etc.   Among his well-known poetry books are My Second in Kentucky (Vision), A Choice of Hashmi’s Verse (Oxford), and The Ramazan Libation (Arc).   He has won a number of  awards and honors, and his work has been translated into several European and Asian languages.   His poetry and scholarly work are required reading in many parts of the world.   He has been a distinguished professor of English and comparative literature, and for four decades now he has taught in European, Asian, and U.S.   universities.   He has also served as a judge of the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.   Currently he lives in Islamabad, Pakistan.   Recently he edited Your Essence, Martyr (Plainview Imprint, 2011), an anthology of contemporary poetry translations.




First Information Report

 

 

I

 

I take the police inspector around the house

and show him how the crimson Virginia creepers

and fruit trees in the backyard—

the loquat, the mulberry, and the guava

we have raised for decades—

have been hacked and torched by miscreants.

The boxwood hedge and the lawn have been turned

to ashes.   It is not the first time.  

I have reported awful incidents before,

including a break-in, a robbery,

and a threat to kill the family.

He acknowledges increasing crime

standing between the remaining trees

—the apricot in flower, stand-alone lime,

and assures a full investigation this time.

The butterflies and sparrows that come here daily

for food and shade are now hasty visitors.

 

 

II

 

I drive to the police station the next day

to pick up a copy of the First Information Report.

I try to avoid a ditch in the middle of the road,

turn the wheel around and face a big toad

sitting atop what looks like a decorative gutter

about eight inches above the road level.

It stares back.   So I park aside to take a look.

You think it’s a clay oven down below,

saved from the Gandhara antiquaries,

to help bake your own bread again.

But roaches swarm the place,

stealing the food and water supplies.

Praise this model management by roaches

in there, a fulsome colony of cadre

termites and silverfish looking after

the home and the forest through the under-cracks.

This whole suburb has acquired a neighborhood:

every night my sleep is riddled with bullet holes;

abrupt rounds fired from Mr Kalashnikov’s

zealous rifle in bigoted hands.   Who will give

a reason? O how to get past the encroachments

into the civil terrain? Fresh body parts are sold

as scrap, and lamb’s blood is daily spilled

in the street where you and I are trying to live.

 

 

III

 

In the meantime, the car engine has overheated

and has to be tuned off.  

Give it fifteen minutes,

so that everybody can blow the  horn at you.

You restart, reverse, and half circle around

to get to the next turning, at a mere 30 KMs an hour.

Without a warning sign, you next meet

a speed breaker the size of the Great Wall.  

Your head hits the car ceiling.

It’s a speed bump, yes, on your head.

The traffic warden in the muddle 

there gives you a ticket

for being careless—about your head.

You leave the car at the roadside,

with emergency lights on,

call a taxi, and ask simply to be taken

back to your house, even as the trees

and the flowers are all but gone.

                                    

                                            —Alamgir Hashmi


 

Testing Ground

 

 

Roaring down,  slashed the bodies to pieces,

the avalanche covers up the hundred and thirty-seven

with miles of ice and then it releases

 

time, unending, for digging, signs of life.

Snow ploughs, depth sensors, hands to heaven

lifted in prayer ask who is at strife

 

really with whom, while death is the only winner.

Nature’s heart melts, though nothing changes

its tough mind. It sheds a tear.

 

Now you must drain this lake also, and divert

the glacial river’s course to tame the ranges

in Siachen’s domain. There only the most alert

 

and strong may have a chance, for the peaks

belong to high mountains—wary of intruders—

or to one daring this week’s snow blizzard who seeks

 

whatever lies across one’s own warm breath,

the body’s agreeable cage, the visible border

of the gunsight. Bless you, soldier, good health!                                                                                                          

                                                   —Alamgir Hashmi