Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1858) Beyond the Ash Rains
'What have you known of loss That makes you different from other men?' - Gilgamesh. When the desert refused my history, Refused to acknowledge that I had lived there, with you, among a vanished tribe, two, three thousand years ago, you parted the dawn rain, its thickest monsoon curtains, and beckoned me to the northern canyons. There, among the red rocks, you lived alone. I had still not learned the style of nomads: to walk between the rain drops to keep dry. Wet and cold, I spoke like a poor man, without irony. You showed me the relics of our former life, proof that we'd at last found each other, but in your arms I felt singled out for loss. When you lit the fire and poured the wine, "I am going," I murmured, repeatedly, "going where no one has been and no one will be... Will you come with me?" You took my hand, and we walked through the streets of an emptied world, vulnerable to our suddenly bare history in which I was, but you said won't again be, singled out for loss in your arms, won't ever again be exiled, never again, from your arms.
There's something hypnotic about this poem - some reason that I've never been quite able to put my finger on, which makes the landscape it describes come so vividly alive. It's not just the individual lines, though some of them are truly brilliant ("I had still not learned the way of nomads: / to walk between the rain drops to keep dry"), nor the way, towards the end, that Shahid invokes the conversational tone so perfectly ("won't ever again / be exiled, never again, from your arms.). It's not even Shahid's trademark trick (learned from years of studying Urdu poetry) of using the most beautiful, evocative words (monsoon, exile) so that to read his poems is to taste the rich, full sweetness of the language. No, there's something else about this poem. The sense, perhaps, of reliving some ancestral dream. Of that moment when you first awake and can just sense the images of last night's vision slipping through your fingers. It is a testament to Shahid's amazing gift that his poems make you feel a nostalgia for places you've never been to, people you've never met, all the lost tribes of ancestors that you can suddenly feel aching in your bones. Aseem.