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a ghazal crown

Poetry | Poetry Tuesday, poetry
May 24, 2022

In 1947, British India divided into two independent
dominion states, India and Pakistan. The resulting
migration killed almost two million at the border.

No one lives just once.
Get lucky and it’ll be a clean break 

but sometimes an earlier self lingers as you claw out 
from your own sinew, she escapes to the alley on break

from the gas station night shift and grasps her name
over and over in the dark or she loses her broken

voice begging at a border or she sprints home
sure something’s chasing her, breaking

brambles like the doe her neighbor shot 
in the eye. Two of these a morning, I barely break

a sweat. I swore I could smell her, the body 
sour with ghosts, blooming. Then the doe broke 

through the trees again, bristling like she’d never 
been killed at all. I wanted to say please break

please crumple all on your own. I wanted to say doe, 
I don’t want to kill you. Please, I know how to break.


Sister, I don’t want to kill you. Please, I know how to break
my name in two. I’ve learned. I am all mine. Then I am mined

for parts. Lightning. I flee past the doe, past the girl turning porous
in the field, past the night sky where we whispered mine

mine mine because we hadn’t ever seen a shaft so bright so full 
of diamonds. Then the shadow I stumble into is mine,

her head bent back to her hands. She screams. I watch 
her colorless tongue. I drive to the gas station where they mine

bones for neon light. I tell the cashier I like the blue. My mother’s
grandmother says I’m too young for ghosts. Says mine

are mostly imagined. In the papers, officials argue Partition’s murders
were a necessary cost: progress preaches itself to me

like a sparrow in heat. Memory is about the body, not the past.
None of these memories are mine. 


None of these memories are mine. 
At night a small child follows me and I can’t remember

what to ask. Who are your parents. How long 
since your hands. Do you remember

when you’re from. I watch her, praying not 
for god but for language. Child, I swell, I remember

how to touch you, how to be a mother, how to coax
a howl to eat. I’m sorry. I said child and meant war. Remember

language is merely a field to walk through. Say sky and look, blue. 
Say escape and find corridors of people you can’t remember

you lost. Say ghost and you open yourself to death. A myth 
and an exorcism are not different things. Remembered

in a museum: a creature, weeping. Something happened to us but 
I can’t remember what, I can’t remember 


I can’t remember, I can’t remember
anything: the accepted murder of country. Like quiet,

child, forget as much as you can, stop leaking
weeping streaking your ghosts across the floors. Quiet

was what the man told me before his hands
at my throat. The government wanted quiet

borders, planted graves at the aperture of progress. 
When I was young, my mother took me to see the quiet

horses. In 1947, two million South Asian people died
in migration. I fly back to the border, stand in the quiet

village again. Light on the other side of the door. It’s all over
India, the parade for independence. I watch my mother get quiet

pack a bag with an old newspaper, her mother’s knife, a blue dress 
watch her cross the ocean and birth me again and raise me on quiet.


I watch her cross the ocean, birth me again, raise me on quiet:
she almost believed we were free. Free, say it again, 

with feeling. I’m so tired of this body. I want 
a new one. Don’t tell me about ache, you born once again

in your ancestors’ living sludge. Some of us learned to speak
in a cemetery or a dark kitchen, practiced again and again 

to twist our mouths around our names. Some of us emerge 
into ghosts so silent only the silence is left. Again, 

my people die. Again, I swallow, reach back. Cussing cusping 
homesick beast. Beast girl, what’s your name again.

I want to be called sky. Or bite. Palm. Air. I want 
to shatter my name so no one can call for me ever again—

so my ghosts lose their way. Please, give me something useful to do 
with my dead. Please: the words shot limp, gone, again


My dead—please—the words shot limp, gone. Again,
I make it summer because what else is there to want 

except escape, banged-up Volvo whirring past billboards 
promising hell, past my grandmother’s mother who wanted

to be a poet, past the year my mother lived below the church believed
nothing and all the moonlight spilled over, past the want

for ancestors or a good story or a body—and time unspools 
again. The border has my mother’s eyes. It wants

to fall in love. To kiss nameless lips shut. The land so 
red so new so clean. The border is everywhere. Wants 

the people happy, so very happy. Craves 
invention, bristling progress. Just wants to be wanted.

Not even my grief is new. I wander through corridors 
where the dead are everywhere and full of want.


Where the dead are everywhere and full of want. 
Where you can leap between centuries and not once

glimpse the faces of kin. Where every footfall leaves 
wounds in the ash. I want to prove we were here once.

Everyone I could be is dead. I want someone to call 
my name, to swear that my body had been new once,

long ago. That when I die, I will be an ancestor, 
not a ghost. I’ll tell you the fable: once,

a girl let the ghosts inside her body, brushed their hair 
with brambles, and she was never lonely again. Once,

a god was anything you couldn’t see up close. 
I can kneel into the blur, try to stand, just once,

I can flee without forgetting this skin
no one lives just once