BY:RAZA ALI HASAN
Humbling of Bhutto in Mecca, Bhutto kissing
Hajar-e-Aswad, half the Bhutto cabinet in Ihram,
kneeling. These were the first scenes, in the rolling
newsreel of half-closed doors, of the doorjamb
in the way of the twentieth century’s upstarts.
A nationalization, by Bhutto, of religious piety?
No, but a headlong scram into obeisance
of all and everybody and everything to the stately
rise of Islam in the neighboring, overbearing Arabia.
That year Bhutto had appointed my father
Hajj secretary, and we, the seven children and the ayah,
were present at Melody Cinema in full regalia
to see, to our amazement, on the screen,
our father in Ihram like Bhutto, and in a tent in Mina,
sitting on the ground in an ablution scene,
the humbling of our mysophobic mother,
who before her pilgrimage would have drunk water
only from a glass washed three times by a servant
and who wouldn't sit on the drawing-room sofa
unless it was draped by a freshly laundered sheet.
BY: KAZIM ALI
How struck I was by that face, years ago, in the church mural:
Eve, being led by Christ through the broken gates of Hell.
She’s been nominated for the position of Featured Saint
on the Icon of Belief, up against the dark horse candidate—
me: fever-ridden and delirious, a child in Vellore, unfolding
the packet around my neck that I was ordered not to open.
Inside, a folk cure, painted delicately in saffron.
Letters that I could not read.
Why I feel qualified for the position
based on letters I could not read amounts to this:
Neither you nor I can pronounce the difference
between the broken gates and the forbidden letters.
So what reason do we need to believe in icons or saints?
How might we otherwise remember—
without an image to fasten in that lonely place—
the rock on which a Prophet flung himself into fever?
Without an icon or church, spell “gates of Hell.”
Spell “those years ago unfolding.”
Recite to me please all the letters you are not able to read.
Spell “fling yourself skyward.”
You wanted to be so hungry, you would break into branches,
and have to choose between the starving month’s
nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings.
The liturgy begins to echo itself and why does it matter?
If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets
into the air and harvest the fog.
Hunger opens you to illiteracy,
thirst makes clear the starving pattern,
the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,
the angel stops whispering for a moment—
The secret night could already be over,
you will have to listen very carefully—
You are never going to know which night’s mouth is sacredly reciting
and which night’s recitation is secretly mere wind—
I never seen such days as this
BY: SHOLEH WOLPÉ
Like the pied piper
the mullah drives his battered truck
through dusty villages, his loudspeaker
singing: Join the battle against the infidels.
Fight for Jihad and live eternally with Allah.
Lift up your guns for Him and you shall never die.
Barefoot boys ragged, hungry
from years of hard soil, follow him
dancing into the straps of loaded guns,
pirouetting into caves and broken buildings
And the boys end up in a land not their own
but are told God is everywhere.
Many die. Others disappear
into dark prison bowels
where each day if you are 12, twelve filthy men
one after another . . .
if you are 14, then fourteen is your lot.
A father sells tea from a cart,
one cup at a time, washes the tiles
of a mosque with a yellow bar of soap
to earn the ransom the soldiers exact.
Every night in his dreams his son stands, calling:
Father, I never seen such days as this.
BY: AGHA SHAHID ALI
between the day’s
five calls to prayer
the women of the house
pulling thick threads
rosaries of ginger
of rustling peppers
in autumn drying for winter
in those intervals this rug
part of Grandma’s dowry
so the Devil’s shadow
would not desecrate
with minarets of gold
but then the sunset
call to prayer
their straw mats unrolled
praying or in the garden
in summer on grass
the children wanting
the prayers to end
the women’s foreheads
silk stone of sacrifice
black stone descended
the pilgrims in white circling it
this year my grandmother
also a pilgrim
in Mecca she weeps
as the stone is unveiled
she weeps holding on
to the pillar
The Beginning of Speech
The child I was came to me
a strange face
He said nothing We walked
each of us glancing at the other in silence, our steps
a strange river running in between
We were brought together by good manners
and these sheets now flying in the wind
then we split,
a forest written by earth
watered by the seasons’ change.
Child who once was, come forth—
What brings us together now,
and what do we have to say?
Protestants pray for grace,
Scientists look to space.
Jews find truth in the Torah,
New Agers, in each other's aura.
Catholics are blessed by a Pope,
Yaquis enlightened by dope.
Maoris use ritual chants,
Navahos get up and dance.
Muslims bow daily to Allah,
Norsemen aspire to Valhalla.
Feminists swear by a She,
Quakers swear not, silently.
Confucians kowtow to ancestors,
Hare Krishnas, to airport investors.
Hindus revere Lord Brahma,
Richard Gere, the Dalai Lama.
Baptists believe in the Ark,
Physicists, in the quark.
Moonies obey Reverend Sun,
Mormons say Brigham's the one.
Daoists extol yang and yin,
Sufis transcend in a spin.
Shintos seek peace where it's grassy,
Rastas, in Haile Selassie.
When we meet in the Afterlife,
We can laugh at sectarian strife.
But meanwhile back to the wars,
'Cause my God's better than yours.