Sunday, August 28, 2016

First week in Iowa City

On the sixth day,
a white graduate student tells me
my English is strong.

I meant to say, that's just as well,
I'm an English teacher,

but didn't, because why the hell
should English still be the gold standard
to measure race relations,
and worth.

On the second day,
they took us grocery shopping.

There was a McDonalds outside
the store. And outside McDonalds
were two flags - the bright yellow 'M'
flying a little higher than Stars & Stripes.

Even America wraps itself up in cliche sometimes.

On the fourth day,
I was watching a Youtube video
of a press conference,
where the Indian Home Minister,
in the seventh week of the curfew in Kashmir,
said that the use of pellet guns caused 'least damage'.

I am beginning to think words
change their meanings in Kashmir.

I am trying to square 'least damage'
with hundreds of children blinded, with
the paramilitary forces' own admission that
they used 1.3 million pellets in over four weeks.

'Least' is the last word
to change its meaning in Kashmir,
in the long line of words,
that includes 'Childhood', and also

On the third day,
I meet a poet who writes of
the missing children of her homeland,
those no longer on the swings,
those no longer on the beaches.

Those eclipsed like
meanings from words.

The map tells me that
from Iowa City to Palestine
is 6327 miles, and
that from Iowa City to Kashmir
is 7127 miles.

I realize how close
Kashmir is to Palestine.

On the fifth day,
we go to a house party
and I find out what sort of houses
University professors can afford to live in in Iowa.

I don't compare.

On the first day,
later, as the evening swept the sky,
we drove from Cedar Rapids airport to our hotel,
and the one thing that I gasped at
- and I did not think I'd gasp at anything in a small town -
was the size of the moon.

It seemed the highway held a moon
ten times bigger than I'd ever seen back home.

This was a beginning,
I told myself,

and if the moon can multiply its size,
what is not possible, then, here?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On seeing a 1944 American Mid-Western Musical, Or,


How much pains it takes
to preserve itself.
How much efforts it puts
to keep others out.
How much history it refuses,
how many tales.

How badly it fails.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

What song of bravery knows

that martyrs too, though
flowers at their feet, and
paens in their sky, still, for
their own homes, really die.

What song of bravery knows
that mother, who, when she
sees him pick up the gun,
says "Don't come back a hero,
just come back as my son."

(For Ghazala Khan)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Kids used marbles,

pebbles, pieces of
clay, to begin counting
back in the day, but
now, in that country,
he told me, "...well it's,
an X-Ray of pellets."

Sunday, August 7, 2016

They were lucky

those who counted love as work,
or those who fell in love with the work
they did. All my life, I've been busy;
I've loved a little, worked a little.
Love always got caught up in work,
work always stepped on love's feet.
I gave up, finally; left both incomplete.

tr. from Faiz Ahmed Faiz's Kuch Ishq Kiya, Kuch Kaam Kiya

tr. with help from Anindita Biswas

Faiz Ahmed Faiz