Medusa In Burkha

I run with the hem clenched between my teeth
as your bomb-sniffing dogs bark at me

I sail on winged sandals across a sky
munching neo-liberalism from a packet of chips.

Helicopters fan civilisation on my head.
You stamp my Burkha on smart guns

but dare not look into my eyes
for I will turn you into a stone.

I am a Millennial Medusa
serpents under my veil.

The lightness Of Being In A Heavily Militarised Zone

before they lay barbed wire
across our tongues
let’s sing of almond blossoms

before they hammer our heads to
harvest thoughts let’s think
what we want to think

before they wall our sleep
let’s whisper dreams
into cold cruel ears

before they blind us
with a burst of lead
let’s mirror our darkness

let’s engrave this story
with fingertips on palms
before they erase our words

I Sip Cold Coffee In Café Turtle, Khan Market, New Delhi

I cuddle into a calm
on a green wing chair.
Daily Special on blackboard:
Lebanese Platter / Cinnamon Roll
My smart phone rings: HOME.
I step out to Turtle Terrace,
shout: “Are you able to buy
food during curfews in Kashmir?”
I feel guilty I’m sure at home
they’ve stripped the last green
from leaves. I straighten my
face, stroll back in. Two grey
haired silk saris blend Kehwa
and broad-minded politics,
three FabIndia kurtas talk profits,
their bellies prosperous.
Espresso machine hisses my name
Is caffeine tricking my brain?
Placard on door: “Have You
Got Café Turtle Loyalty Card?”
I feel like a hopping clown
inverting loyalties. Lest glances
across the room declare
my reversed solidarity,
I huddle at my table strewn
with cinnamon crumbs.
I hate crummy tables,
unfold a fresh paper napkin
to map my life – a farce-in-progress.

What Dal Lake Wants To Tell Me

Are you a quaint wooden houseboat half afloat
or a mess of weeds pulling the boat down,

or a slim concubine in a Persian miniature
leaning on a marble monument to dead love,

or a trail in the sky made by a misfired shrapnel,
or a vein in a fallen leaf of a chinar,

or an almond blossom embroidered
on a shawl for which you were sold?

Dal Lake coughs up a reply:

Where in time are you?
I can hardly hear the chatter of tourists,

din of boys squabbling,
or a muezzin pronouncing death to the night.

I play dull to match the wits of tourists who open
their bellies in my Flush-Fitted houseboats.

I laugh when sepia clouds discover snow geese in flight.
I am waiting for the woman

in the Observatory Deck
to slash with her blunt sword

killer weeds strangling me,
but I know, even she knows,

it’s hopeless in Kashmir
the sky’s mirror sullied.

I Will Burn My Books

I Dream : I Faustus

“Mephistopheles!” I yell into my phone.
“Mephistopheles?” I go into his voicemail.
“Mephistopheles, I will burn my books.”

I cough and sneeze at night,
plastic Mandarin teeth,
Chanel shades,

and a contact lens
nestled inside my eye
all fall down as I cuss,

O god!
(even contact lenses face a
point-of-view backlash).

My sari loosens at the waist.
I eat salmon sushi for brunch,
thinking of my babies – never born.

I am at the mercy of history.
I’ve lost a bit of my memory.
I curse the moment I let you go.

There was enough time – forty nights –
between the calf and Moses
at Mount Sinai.

I crafted your absence
beyond the cracked dome.

Is the solitude singularly dark?
Isn’t god lonely too in her abode
with no other gods to keep company?

Down here in a decayed mosque
at the mercy of a sunken-eyed muezzin,
I slug it out with ghosts of time

who exhaust me to death.
I dream the same dreams
over and over again.

Like Moses, I, too, throw a staff.
No god appears from a burning bush,
no sea parts,

the rod only puts in a cameo
in the vacuity of my tale
I am a torn-off page

from one of my burnt books,
faded ink of a promised land
a dystopian dream, they say.

Serpents Under My Veil

Excerpted with permission from Serpents Under My Veil, Asiya Zahoor, Tethys.