Mother leans against history — Two Poems by Zeeshan Ali
January 4, 2022
Zeeshan Ali presents two poems that process a history of war, one from the perspective of a "mother's longing for freedom" and another, a two-part prose poem that expands from multiple voices, some discernible, and others not as much. The perspectives and the voices that emerge from both poems can be seen as diametrically opposite to one another, while maintaining a common setting that emphasizes the tension and contrast to be found within these verses by the young poet.

Mother’s Wish

Mother leans against history
by the windowsill each day
combing dawns, by the light
of her greying tresses

—wrought in the red coral
of time—
she says,

‘‘The air is here  so close
and breathing difficult[1],
we will grow daffodils in our lungs[2]

so that the longing
of our ancestors is visible
through our chests

as we march through
twilights of separation,
a litany of crackdowns

and prayers at Bulbul Shah
until we braid open
from the pale blossoms
fate’s delicate branch…’’

And I want to stitch myself
into my mother, beyond time—

‘‘What if the hands
of the clock are severed
by unforgiving arms, Mother?’’

I say this and she wrinkles
into a shadow and makes slowly
for the sun, echoing her wish:

‘‘Before I am a memory
I want to inhale our fate
quick, like immortal air!’’


[1] The daughter, speaking to her father, Indra. Prologue, A Dream Play by August Strindberg. Translated by Edwin Björkman.

[2] Adapted from a verse of Omair Bhat’s unpublished poem on Facebook.

Orderly Executions and Dreamless Faces

A wall of difficult dreams
divides me from the dead.  

  Federico García Lorca. Tr. by James Wright[1]

I — Summer

The boys are executed in an orderly, precise manner, involving minimal effort, thorns in flesh and skull like abundant rain; their fate— a ghoulish display of pockmarked X-ray scans— only the click of a trigger away: the soft note of a death-rattle, the result of a practice perfected over decades of leisurely time on the blooming periphery of the Tulip Garden: the pasture of stillborn dreams, golden sunsets and restless winds, where we almost always find ourselves humming to a sweet, melodious Kishore Kumar song that seems to arrive on the shoulders of the evening breeze, and jingles through the scent of a million petals planted by pale hands with sad tenderness, as if to convey, that the music of it all [2]is what we are left to contend with, forever!

When it snows in winter, we warm our fingertips on live coals in the gas-chamber of our mansion that smell of burnt skin and supple flesh. The summers are so sprightly that we barely notice the invading silhouettes of the clouds, bleak as if hanging by a last thread.

If there is paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!


II — Winter

When the autumn’s scarlet limbs are put to fire, leaving behind a residue of ashen twigs knit clean into the webs of the nights, shadows begin to emerge from the dead. There, in the eerie hush of the morbid mansion, severed hands seem to fling about the floor, headless torsos scuttle like overgrown florets, and dreamless faces almost come alive. Empty eye sockets dart around…

Nightmares about slow-crusted warm blood lurk on the snow.

The ritual of this dance-of-death held every now and then is futile. They so frighten us when alive but as soon as they drop to eternal sleep, they have a faint prayer on their lips, “How can I endure separation from you, O God?”[3] As if they had agreed to a secret covenant and known of it all along. And why do they always seem smiling, with their eyes closed?

“We are doomed to carry the rotting flesh of the sordid corpse of our history back to where we came from many decades ago, or we will become our own noose in the guillotine ceremony that is almost upon us!”


[1] “Gacela of the Remembrance of Love”, Federico Garcia Lorca:

[2] Ghazal ‘Of It All,’ Chapter. Call Me Ishmael Tonight. Page 277, The Veiled Suite, Agha Shahid Ali. First edition. Copyright © 2009 by the Agha Shahid Ali Literary Trust. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

[3] The supplication of Kumayl, by Imam Ali,

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<a href="" target="_self">Zeeshan Ali</a>

Zeeshan Ali

Zeeshan Ali is an English language poet from Kashmir.