Shizah Kashif

Edition April 2020

Desi elaichi - by Shizah Kashif (Photo by Raghu Nayyar).jpgPhoto credit: Raghu Nayyar

Desi elaichi

By Shizah Kashif

I was raised in desi loudness
where rain met its lover on the street
and a doomed smell pervaded
of too many elaichis in biryani
for their union, too, is clandestine
like the grenade of bark-like bitterness
imploding when located and bitten
inside buccal cavities
serrated by spices and reckless swearing,
eviscerating red tastebuds
with a painful pleasure,
and likewise
this loudness is painfully poetic too.

the jangling sitar’s serenade populates our idle hands
guitar strings waiting to be strummed to the beat of the rain and its lover but this is not all that dances
rush hours of red and a haggling lady in pink
sweet pungency of sweat singing the air with passionate industry,
account books done and dusted
shelved for the day next to Faiz
and a stingy bearded man called Chilli’s reverie because the rain panders on like
dough whipped into blistering goodness of curvaceous samosas,
filling up bellies with an afternoon daze
and lullabies on old radios that take us back to love.

I am not brave enough to spell our love;
for it is not a tale, sung in these scents nor a fable
exemplars of human
of an unpleasant kind
biting and bitter, sweetly sour
epochs of giant tragedy
plague this veneer of cut glass
like the wings of mottled butterflies hidden in the trees stripped bare by our own little lies.

hissing, the clothes dye, a motley of sugary promises
a light shower of color touches
those who float by
like curdled milk on carrots:
rapids of flavor run down our faces and yet the color
doesn’t settle in my soul – settlement is a fallacy
agreed, shook upon, now we move on.
meanwhile the dyer’s business booms
and the changing shades of our dupattas are evidence enough:
we do not settle.

like skinny dogs panting by the pavement
even the clouds ache to devour
a tickle of this scent
there are cloves cooking in the air
repulsive and enticing, pendulums of dangerous curiosity marinating stories
never leaving lips bitten down for too long.
they pry these two folds apart
and a film of color plays into
canals dug deep into their bodies;
an irrigation scheme for the heart
challenging the waning Ravi and her panache.

in this desi loudness,
agreed upon, seen, tasted, heard, burnt,
quiet still prevails unheard,
for by a rattled window downtown that refuses to be hushed
someone drops a sizzling chili into a steel pot
and there it lies
squirming deliciously in the brew.


Edition XXXXII

Not Every Rain is Beautiful - by Shizah Kashif (Photo by Matteo Catanese)Photo credit: Matteo Catanese

Not Every Rain is Beautiful

By Shizah Kashif

there is rain inside all of us –
for some what’s blue and soft and slithers down backs like cashmere shawls
is grey and gouging and grates along cavernous ribcages for others
I’ve caught strangers on trains steal their eyes from mine – stern and taciturn,
when sheets of the sky’s tears tore up the papyraceous highways –
caught glimpses of their own sheets, rolled up, rankling and secretive
the rain outside whispered secrets of their own
to ears grown wearied of sweet smiles and goodbyes;
to eyes borne silent by raging seas of unknowing;
to slight limbs still yielding vitality to heavy dreams;
but the rain outside crashed on
the rivulets on their raincoats a facade
for the drought in their minds –
all moisture evades them there
all the water in their eyes
is mixed into the rainwater on their cheeks
sallow, seeping with a decisiveness
rivaling that of shying deciduous maidens
onto the outstretched palms in their laps
and settling there like an unspoken prayer.

the train reaches another destination
we droop off it like dew off leaves.

fastening our raincoats even tighter around our sad waists,
we travel home
while our shoes fill up with the rain in our toes.’


Edition XXIX

My Love Cannot Be Simple - By Shizah Kashif (Photo by Clem Onojeghuo) (1)Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo 

My Love Cannot be Simple

By Shizah Kashif

I write
A little sometimes
A lot other times
Somewhere in the middle
Every once in a while, I write
I remember loving words
In the phonic books they had us read in kindergarten
I remember loving words
In the subtitles that played with the movies I grew up watching
I remember loving words
In the books that break my shelves with their weight now
And the books that flood out onto my bedroom floor
After a splurge at Borders or a thrift book shop or even the book corner at Sikka
When my parents would beg me to please
Make some space
Words don’t need space
They make space
They make space
They make spaces widen
And they furnish them, bursts of tales on my walls,
An unrequited love here, a saga of loss there,
The crest of an empire on one’s pages, the trough of humanity elsewhere
they are the accessory to life and I thrive off them
words are limitless

and I remember always loving them

but now
I’m a little grown
Not old enough to change the world
Like the aunties back home tell me
But old enough to know why my identity
Is so heavy
And why my love can not be simple

You see
I am a brown girl
I grew up in the breezes that rustled the mulberries
In the nerve of my country, my capital, my home
I lounged underneath star-specked, clear, wide skies that
Were beautiful to me
But had so many times been the last thing my countrymen
Throughout the land of the Indus,
would get to see when they were called onto by their Lord
Because some men decided
To spray my country’s fields of cotton
With the pesticide of hate
Of division, of death
Of our leaders fighting amongst themselves
Of women barricaded into their bodies in the peaks in the north
Of young boys, who were supposed to love their home,
Picked apart till they learnt to spite it
With AK 47s

I saw the rice harvests die
More times than I can count
I saw locusts escape the carnage of the
Ruin of our fields
With a plaster of innocence on their face
Held in place
Secured in place
By the invisible, intangible commandment
That the rice will grow back in time
Like they always do
When brown backed men and women with cotton parandas braided into their hair
Will descend upon their family grounds
And sow the seeds again
Until then
The locusts could feed on us
Because
They
Simply
Could

You see I grew up inside a country
My country
That woke up each morning
And couldn’t breathe in the freedom it fought for
It bled for
For 250 years under the boot of men who stole our identities
Shipped them across the Indian ocean
And profited off them when we fell into famines
Of having something, anything, to call our own
Because once we’d gotten our history handed back to us
After toil, after death, after mothers drowned their infants in wells
After daughters strangled themselves with their own brown hands
When the enemy knocked down the locks on their doors under the crescent moon
The colonisers said
You will regret this
We will make you regret this

I grew up
In love with my country
And its ten thousand political fallouts
And failed alliances
And military coups
And the mess it had made of itself in the 70 years from its rebirth
But it was only once I soared up and out and landed here
Did I realise
That people would hate me for this love in my heart

You see they say I’m too young to speak like this
I’m not just young, I am a girl, they keep telling me
They tell me my strength is empowering but it is also
Toxic
But tell me this,
How can I braid back the ropes around my neck
Refasten the chains around the ankles
When that is exactly what my mother’s mother’s mother
And my father’s father’s father
Prayed and traded their lives
For me to never see
Why do you ask this of me
Why do you want me to be
Exactly what our skin defied to leave
Behind in the gallows of our history
How do I stop
This love from pouring out of my sweat glands
And onto my tan, tan skin
The same glands that are right now
Fueling the growth of my people
Along the Indus
Along the stretch of the Thar
Along the apricot farms on the hillsides
Along the army barricades
where my brothers
Are taught to sacrifice for love
How do I stop this love
When my tongue is dripping in the blood-soaked brown soil my grandfather’s feet pounded on
When the only words he knew were
Freedom is waiting for me
It is waiting for me
It is waiting for US
We are free

So when I see someone with a skin on the lighter side of the scale
Tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about
I’ll ask them
To open a history book tonight
That wasn’t published by their own country
I’ll tell them
That from where I come from,
One person’s wounds is everyone’s wounds
And that we might be a flawed people
Nestled in the comfort of being 220 million strong but divided in the headlines of your newspapers
But that when we love,

We burn down empires

We burn down darkness

We burn

And we become the brightest, warmest fire you’ll ever see

My love cannot be simple
For anything
And I like that
And I will go and write that down
On my wrists tonight
The girl fervidly reading phonics in kindergarten
Still smiling somewhere in my skin.


Edition XXXI

I Hate Roses - by Shizah Kashif  (Photo by Gian D.).jpgPhoto credit: Gian D.

I Hate Roses

By Shizah Kashif

I hate roses
as I sit inside my car
outside rusty brass gates that
separate the dead world from the undead

I hate roses
as their fragrance fills up my senses
from the petals inside a plastic bag
meant to adorn a grave I wish had never been dug

I hate roses
with their crisp scarlet facades
and their stench of death
plucked out of ugly stems
I wish I can trample all over

I hate roses
because for me they are not beautiful
because for me they smell like agony
because for me they look like a grave
I wish had never been dug

I hate roses
so on my wedding day
or the day I complete my Hajj
or the day I complete my first eiteqaaf
or the day I graduate from college
Do not shower me with roses
Do not bathe me in the souls of my beloved

Because it will pull out of me
a tear
that I wish would never have to fall
onto the soil in which my beloved lies


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