Ancestral Tombs


No spite, unease, no muted grief or plea;
just skill to swim this atemporal sea…
To what song shall I now my mind prepare
and which undoing of this eve repair?

We cannot leave the unknown to streams of leavened lust;
the ebb and flood of silt and smoke retains
the quiver of each breathing pulse in chains
of flowers lurching in our spans of dust.

Set store by love, and ire too – it is all flowers
and kindling in our blazing gardens, fruits and
dreams of honey and streams of milk to feed the
squirrels gone mad with joy, scurrying in the trees

and chirping nonsense for the lack of better claims.
Owls meditate in the bushy tamarisks, and when night
approaches the dead, they glide along the arc of life;
they too shall kill to eat like us before they die.

The flood of life cannot be drawn outside the plain of death,
we know; tradition sings in bones and assent smiles in skulls,
the fingers come apart and neither rake nor slake
our primal fears. So why be scared of a shrunken jaw

of a beautiful woman, and not admire the lover’s wreathes around her?
It is no sin to refuse one’s charms or to engage in the courtship dance;
the peacock’s tail never sins – if only man had such a tail!
Sin is a specter of sullen minds allergic to uncommon sense.

Man was born of suffering, and woman to travail –
just as my soul has leaned upon a woman’s bare arm that
has it quietly budding in the silence of slumbering streets,
its breath intent on the limpidness of air and the night in parted hair.

My heart quivers to find some mother woo so tenderly
her nestling – with bricks of hope, reprieved obsession
in nooks and narrowness. What could the child bring forth?
Was she not once herself a child? Does she not know how childhood

seldom grows past the pestilence of heart, the mind, and
the stomach too? The sweetest love may congeal and the greatest scope
reveal that we only live our pride with pain evoked in other wombs
while day slips by. Oh lousy, lonesome luckiness!

The twigs of hope keep sprouting in the spring
and a little gesture swells on a shop window, in an icy street;
the verdure means new life, signaling a return to the old;
the arm that bore the strength of raging seas

now porously can blot a drop of rain.
Faces go around and seek some consonance
to feel alive but lose all ardor in the crowd –
we all must die, like those to come, would love and lie

with cheeks that are pomegranates born to future mothers
who would pray their proud sons may sing the song of songs
in vast invisible circles. Those eyebrows too, terrible
as the arches of roofless palaces, would seek life

beyond themselves where grasses sprout on walls and sparkle
in the sun. It is animus taking turns in the same abode
and love waiting to enamor the next cursory eye,
and flood it with images of enchanting disarray.

I’ve nailed the coffin of countless causes with a little
hammer from the musty case of a beloved uncle; the house
went soon past him, the implement he thought I would mislay
abides. Elements of care do not risk the rut of rules.

Fates may be sealed like bees misled into a cozened room,
harrowed by the wind. Now that the tone is mellow,
life need not be an empty bowl or shallow – wills transfigure,
even after vows that bind one and loosen the other.

There’s wisdom in the senses of our soles, and sense
of conscience past conflated consciousness of time.
Where do we stop, when did we start at all?
We cannot ground ourselves in rills let loose

by constant drizzles raveling our deeds – each deed
a somber emblem of our being, our being a stance of
melting moods – daughters to the wind. Each deed being a need,
what do we trust – the elemental self, the providence of rain?

Let no one doubt the wisdom of a shapely nose
and bloodless lips, and a soft voice and mellow eyes –
the features speak or smile and teach the savant
a late lesson. Is it too late for homely incarnations?

The mist is there, so are the clouds, and even if they
should clear, their smiling visions squint and scamper
in the air, all around in the snow and the sand and
on my native land, and scatter my sleep on your gracious palm.

I have known maternal consolation in some fictional
woman or the other, and in you, in your uncertain
kindnesses, in the taste that lingers at the back of
my nose while the song in my eyes still brims.

We’ll yet dig up ancestral tombs and know the names
beyond reproach, take each cell apart and you will
build them up again, in your own image. Here life may be
revisited, even the mosque is there for our first prayer,

and another kiss reminiscent of god. Derision does not divest
a kiss of its sweetness or meaning, and a kiss does not die
of disapproval – it lives on, now on your faithful lips,
and now on faithless mine – this sapling of our souls.

What were those little sadnesses that filled your heart
on cloudy rooftops, under dinner table lamps? What was
the sense of such superfluous spawn? Robbing you of sleep,
did it also bring you the swarm of butterflies and gnomes?

And all we may complain of is never that which hurts like
our own faceless demons ‐ they do not show, we do not see
and they are sleeping in the cranial vaults fed by, God knows,
what artery. And mine will not recline but on a woman’s hand.

Patience and patience without asking, it takes
patience to the last, even in the most senseless
dying just as in the midst of the crimson flying
above the core of life in a beckoning dream.

Befriend the demons, invite them to your hearth and grave;
they are all your kin after all, and it is
in convivial things that the night fires burn brightly
to heat the cauldrons – for some huge unnamed

ceremony you’d still like to behold – what we barely
know is there. If love were consumed with a
thing or two, it would be a shallow ditch that
sprains ankles of unwary guests, and never abyss.

And you would not remember the dying butterfly
and the gashed yellow rose in a remote corner.
Perhaps you were raised with a vapid tongue
but a gently rocking knee under your afternoon

naps – perhaps there was wisdom of the stars in
the countless kisses surrounding you like a
poppy field in spring, and not the tumid gall
in the woman’s hate for man, or the man’s

little diversions. Take it all with the ancestral flood;
part lies here in dust and part is flesh in you.
Lay wreaths to these dead mounds; forgive
them and you forgive your selves; retire to all

your wanderings. Those who fight the dead bruise
themselves for the lack of armor – you do not
know what they have already become, beyond
all silences, a door awaits ajar beyond the grave.

We are our thoughts, intentions, apparitions
inside deeds, and know not all we own,
do not own all we claim through filial rites.
The neighbor’s unsure son may be more an heir to my

father’s craft or I a bearer of true breeding foolishness –
it is all fate, the genes and contingencies decide; life
is full of gods and surprises, and both we cannot wed.
We believe in joy, and even the birds believe with you

only because there is so much pain to go around,
and fireflies to comfort the eye where stars do not
light the way. But if you must, bear this flower gently to its grave,
let it pass on in its dream that could not see the light of day.

I too have something akin to faith in your plumes of silence,
in my needful exile from your gravid world to which
all my thoughts keep turning and mirror themselves
in you with April angst or the molting light of March.

And we were fated to be such that you would
hold out your hand to me once or twice and I
would only see butterflies flit around your smile
and wispy raven eyebrows curling back into the night.

We may have seen better days with kinder breezes
entering the gates of sensibilities across the bamboo trees
with constellations holding their breaths right above our heads,
watching us in awe, wondering at our work and song.

All fragments of adoration may be living worlds, since our
becomings would be lost if sensations were not beliefs.
Diffident angel, don’t let it all unsettle as a starless night on
your sweet lips – take it as the afterglow of a sad, verdant

evening so precise in its confusion, unmistakable in its
vaguest yearnings, jugular to our selves, unmarred by distance –
or the smell of freshly painted walls and polished doors
and the cold pedantic flood that drowns the artless muse.

A river slowly flows by these inviting graves
to slake the thirst of living things, and through them
swim the effortless centuries – it’s only the you or I
that has to keep on and up and try.

It will never be wrong to delight in the day;
with our little limitations and vast consolations,
we will get along, draw the vigor of simpering youth
from sweet abundant apples that bide the seeds of wisdom.

Consider the bark that bears our shadows asea –
the dawning orb of tenderness, the belovedness of rain,
the little smiling girl who blooms now in this face, now that.
The silver in the voice heralds the speechless foam

and cloudy blankets blink on rolling hills;
the trees have come to life and thrushes frolic in the fronds.
Be still, engrave a smile on lifeless sprawling plains,
release the rancor foaming in your breast.

The book that smelts in all the passing years,
the swooning soil, the ah, the sigh renewed,
the green assault of trembling, daring limbs,
the muted dare of caring in the clouds.

Let in some air, let such infancy inhale,
let’s build a world conflating shards of time
and turn evanescent tunes in lapping flames,
come back to the expanding fold that reckons me.

An impulse ripples on these shallow pools
next to the fields and palisades of trees
where starlings march behind the plowshare,
engrossed in chase of wriggling starts of life –

the same permanence that flows from bone to bone
and lives in us as flowers of the soil;
and everywhere either the ardor fades or the mind wanders,
and between us too, it has sensed the scare, grown pale

in your little hands grown rough with homely toil –
looked up at you and made its fervid plea,
engaged with you in sweetest argument
and dared to scribble sounds inside its caves.

The listening ear is slave not only to the fatal horn but to the queerest change
in land or sea, the tide of time, the warming breeze, in you or me.
Janus‐faced, Argus‐eyed, god‐forsaking warmth tongue-tied,
the silent seeds have taken root in fertile carcasses.

Soon there will be almond blooms everywhere to plead the eye
and clothe the awkward nakedness of solar‐humored pain.
The sway of words, the path of gods has so impressed itself
upon the weary knees of flaming hearts, jingled its assent,

showered all its keys, and cleansed all swill in bends of living streams,
meandering away from overgrown expanses of weathering palaces,
lulled the quick of urges in their gently arching halls – the bricks are tender
motherhood, the beams are little girls – emerging brides and diadems of dawn.

Look, what words have done to us! Lettered our horizons – swept us on!
Still, words will do, I say, my blood, my sound in any tongue would be as red and bound.
Look, what love has done to us! One cheek is pale, the other flushed,
the spirit is cocooned in seemliness, and the range of sympathies pecked green.

Patience! Avail, longsuffering worthiness! Rustle, leaves! Ruffle, winds!
Gravid words, flourishing compendiums, words whirling on our irises,
read, regale her mind, and scribe her name onto your ageless leaves.
Today, I wish to woo all living things to gently break their silences and sing.

This mold of thought and form and awe – assurance in my sinews and temper
in my loins – what contingency explains a communion so sure, a union so ripe?
The code of time, the plumbing of the future is more than a palmar crease.
Love is ulterior to the drag of days. Love is a synopsis of the self.

Taimur Khan


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