A Pastoral

on the wall the dense ivy of executions
—ZBIGNIEW HERBERT

We shall meet again, in Srinagar,   
by the gates of the Villa of Peace,   
our hands blossoming into fists   
till the soldiers return the keys
and disappear. Again we’ll enter
our last world, the first that vanished

in our absence from the broken city.   
We’ll tear our shirts for tourniquets
and bind the open thorns, warm the ivy   
into roses. Quick, by the pomegranate—
the bird will say—Humankind can bear   
everything. No need to stop the ear

to stories rumored in branches: We’ll hear
our gardener’s voice, the way we did
as children, clear under trees he’d planted:
“It’s true, my death, at the mosque entrance,
in the massacre, when the Call to Prayer
opened the floodgates”—Quick, follow the silence—

“and dawn rushed into everyone’s eyes.”   
Will we follow the horned lark, pry
open the back gate into the poplar groves,   
go past the search post into the cemetery,   
the dust still uneasy on hurried graves
with no names, like all new ones in the city?

“It’s true” (we’ll hear our gardener
again). “That bird is silent all winter.
Its voice returns in spring, a plaintive cry.   
That’s when it saw the mountain falcon   
rip open, in mid-air, the blue magpie,   
then carry it, limp from the talons.”

Pluck the blood: My words will echo thus   
at sunset, by the ivy, but to what purpose?   
In the drawer of the cedar stand,
white in the verandah, we’ll find letters:   
When the post offices died, the mailman   
knew we’d return to answer them. Better

if he’d let them speed to death,
blacked out by Autumn’s Press Trust
not like this, taking away our breath,
holding it with love’s anonymous
scripts: “See how your world has cracked.
Why aren’t you here? Where are you? Come back.

Is history deaf there, across the oceans?”
Quick, the bird will say. And we’ll try
the keys, with the first one open the door
into the drawing room. Mirror after mirror,   
textiled by dust, will blind us to our return
as we light oil lamps. The glass map of our country,

still on the wall, will tear us to lace—
We’ll go past our ancestors, up the staircase,
holding their wills against our hearts. Their wish
was we return—forever!—and inherit(Quick, the bird
will say) that to which we belong, not like this—
to get news of our death after the world’s.

(for Suvir Kaul)

Agha  Shahid Ali, "A Pastoral" from The County Without a Post Office. Copyright © 1997 by Agha  Shahid Ali.  Used by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Source: The Country Without a Post Office (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1998)
More Poems by Agha Shahid Ali