Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1401) A Nostalgist's Map of America
The trees were soon hushed in the resonance of darkest emerald as we rushed by on 322, that route that took us from the dead center of Pennsylvania. (a stone marks it) to a suburb ten miles from Philadelphia. "A hummingbird", I said, after a sharp turn, then pointed to the wheel, still revolving in your hand. I gave Emily Dickinson to you then, line after line, complete from heart. The signs on Schuylkill Expressway fell neat behind us. I went further: "Let's pretend your city is Evanescence - There has to be one - in Pennsylvania - And that some day - the Bird will carry - my letters - to you - from Tunis - or Casablanca - the mail an easy night's ride - from North Africa." I'm making this up, I know, but since you were there, none of it's a lie. How did I go on? "Wings will rush by when the exit to Evanescence is barely a mile?" the sky was dark teal, the moon was rising. "It always rains on this route", I went on, "which takes you back, back to Evanescence, your boyhood town". You said this was summer, this final end of school, this coming home to Philadelphia, WMMR as soon as you could catch it. What song first came on? It must have been a disco hit, one whose singer no one recalls. It's six, perhaps seven years since then, since you last wrote. And yesterday, when you phoned, I said, "I knew you'd call," even before you could say who you were. "I am in Irvine now with my lover, just an hour from Tuscon and the flights are cheap." "Then we'll meet often." For a moment you were silent, and then, "Shahid, I'm dying". I kept speaking to you after I hung up, my voice the quickest mail, a cracked disc with many endings, each false: One: "I live in Evanescence (I had to build it, for America was without one). All is safe here with me. come to my street, disguised in the climate of Southern California. Surprise me when I open the door. Unload skies of rain from distance drenched arms." Or this: "Here in Evanescence (which I found - though not in Pennsylvania - after I last wrote), the eavesdropping willows write brief notes on grass, then hide them in shadows of trunks. I'd love to see you. Come as you are." And this, the least false: "You said each month you need new blood. Please forgive me, Phil, but I thought of your pain as a formal feeling, one useful for the letting go, your transfusions mere wings to me, the push of numerous hummingbirds, souveniers of Evanescence seen disappearing down a route of veins in an electric rush of Cochineal."
For Philip Paul Orlando. The first time I learnt Shahid was dying was in September 2001. As I sat there shocked at the news (I had no idea he was even ill) I found myself mouthing the last stanzas of this poem again and again. Not just because it's a poem of his I love. Not just because it captures so well who Shahid was, both as a poet (the conversational style, the formal structure, the repetition of themes and phrases in endless improvisations, the raw passion of the metaphors, so redolent of the Urdu he loved) and as a person (his warmth, his sense of humour, his love for Dickinson, his habit of quoting little gems of poems with the most bizarre connections). But because it expresses better than anything I've ever read the impossibility of finding the right words for the death of a friend. How each line you come up with is a lie because it's never enough, because it never says everything that needs to be said. And how in the end, all words are a betrayal, a way of selling out what we feel to the formality of the writer's craft. This poem is the most touching I can find to mark Shahid's second death anniversary (Dec 8th) because it is the most honest - because it offers not consolation but the search for consolation, because it throws up its hands and admits that it is not enough. Aseem. [Minstrels Links] Emily Dickinson: Poem #92, There's a certain Slant of light Poem #174, A Route of Evanescence Poem #341, The Grass so little has to do - Poem #458, The Chariot Poem #529, If you were coming in the fall Poem #580, Split the Lark Poem #687, Success is counted sweetest Poem #711, I'm Nobody! Who are you? Poem #829, It dropped so low in my regard Poem #871, I felt a Funeral, in my Brain Poem #891, A Doubt If It Be Us Poem #950, The Cricket Sang Poem #1294, The reticent volcano keeps Poem #1328, You cannot put a fire out Poem #1337, Ample Make This Bed Poem #1347, In a Library Poem #1382, Hope #174, "A Route of Evanescence", is extensively quoted in today's poem. Agha Shahid Ali: Poem #961, The Wolf's Postscript to 'Little Red Riding Hood' Poem #1129, Farewell