Prayer Rug

By Agha Shahid Ali 1949–2001
Those intervals   
between the day’s   
five calls to prayer

the women of the house   
pulling thick threads   
through vegetables

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   
Mecca scarlet-woven

with minarets of gold   
but then the sunset   
call to prayer

the servants
their straw mats unrolled   
praying or in the garden

in summer on grass   
the children wanting   
the prayers to end

the women’s foreheads   
touching Abraham’s   
silk stone of sacrifice

black stone descended   
from Heaven
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 pillars

(for Begum Zafar Ali)

Agha Shahid Ali, “Prayer Rug” from The Half-Inch Himalayas. Copyright © 1987 by Agha Shahid Ali. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press,

Source: The Half-Inch Himalayas (1987)

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Poet Agha Shahid Ali 1949–2001

Subjects Home Life, Religion, Men & Women, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Agha Shahid Ali


Agha Shahid Ali was born in New Delhi, India in 1949. He grew up in Kashmir, the son of a distinguished and highly educated family in Srinagar. He attended the University of Kashmir, the University of Delhi and, upon arriving in the United States in 1975, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Arizona. Though a Kashmiri Muslim, Ali is best known in the U.S. and identified himself as an American poet writing in . . .

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SUBJECT Home Life, Religion, Men & Women, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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