A Piece of Bread, a Country, and a Shehnai

In your final rest
on a rope-cot,

were you still dreaming
of a piece of bread?

Beloved one,
we the people
of this country,

of that country,
can make anything

but a piece of bread
for you.

Your death now
is a dream forgotten.

Stingy dream, secret,
yesterday, the day

before, or early dawn
of some endless night,

snatched from
a broken sleep

like a cut thread.

(Says Amma: don’t
forget the early

dawn dreams as they
might become real)

One festival
of breads,

you drank the last drop
of sweet kheer

at my home,
the sweet kheer slipped
into your beard.

So said the Prophet:
‘All my dreams

are inevitable

and squeezed his body
into a qibla

and swallowed the poison
in Fatima’s womb

and then slipped away
into his dream

that was like knowing.
Then what was left?

One Karbala,
bodies piled on bodies.

And from her birth pangs,
from her broken sleep,

Fatima began to broom the hurt field
with her braid.

When you poured your pain
into your pipe of shehnai,

did I ever tell you
all my history is a broken sleep,

a shattered
genderless dream that multiplies.

Your dream of bread
is not far from her battlefield

Your body at last on the rope-cot,
the last pinning glance of the war;

they are the same dream
one restlessness, one violent shriek,

this is what
I am now.

When you left,
the shehnai turned alone
into her dark corner

and sang to herself,
beating and beating
the ceaseless tune

of the dream you left

No Birthplace

Some limbs and organs under a vacuum head.
Where did I come from?

None of you told me the answer,
so at forty-seven I blew up.

What did you do with the limbs of God?
Butchered them, divided them among yourselves,
left me nothing.

Bodiless shadow,
soul delivered in shame and tossed over a wall,

I roam through country after country,
imagining that each one is mine.

Each village, each house, I imagine is mine.
But not even a bee can tell me my address.

From somewhere, saffron hands
are cutting away the land under my feet.

From somewhere, the dust of crumbled domes
flutters onto my body,
building up a tomb.

Using my eyelids as blindfolds,
someone is slowly pilfering my cool flesh.

I turn into a stranger’s corpse,
strewn in the bloody dirt of Bombay.

Unclear who is crossing over me which way.

Citizen of a vacuum world,
migrant in any time.

Since half of me is drowned in darkness,
I delude myself that the other half is brilliance.

I leap into the inner spirals of myself
hoping to murder each moment’s soul of time.

I won’t ask for half a kingdom or the state of Anga.
I don’t have a tongue to ask for my torn nerves back.

Does the corpse have some land to hide in?
Any small plot is enough, a shade over the head.

The spot where you stand now —
that’s the most holy place there is.

Come, divide me by myself, I say.
Not by forty-seven.

My laughs, screams, harangues, deaths, and rapes —
They’re all yours too!
Don’t spit in my mother’s womb-water.

Oh, enemies who divide and rule,
no one can split me even in two.
No one can blast the pupils of my eyes.

Excerpted with permission from Evening with a Sufi, Afsar Mohammad, translated from the Telugu by the poet and Shamala Gallagher, Red River.