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Zakia R. Khwaja


I read the Roznama Jang
to my grandfather's cataracts,
seer-white in sunlight.

"Jaddojohad, not jaddojehed," he corrects
as my eleven years struggle with the careful Urdu
of journalists while in our basement, a secret
press saves words dying on tongues, welted
off backs, choked into cuffed hands.

Sometimes, I am allowed to witness
the bulb sparking over democratized print,
the fingers screwing ink into acetone-soaked
muslin. Man-high piles of foolscap lean
against foundations. I learn how to fold

sentences into the kind of books
that get transported in tarp-covered wheelbarrows.

Stitching spines is difficult and paper cuts.


Baba first faded from the driveway motia
and was later found amid the wrinkled petals
on a kurta that had long released
its gather into a waiting lap.

Then, he started growing faint on the verandah
like handwriting on the back of sepia photographs
and we discovered him in the library, restored
in engraved manuscripts.

It bothered him that he vanished
from the prayer mat. That day, he remained
chin-sunk on the sofa.

We feared he was gone forever
when he disappeared from the bed, leaving
a dent in the pillow, but we unearthed him

in the camphor-scented drawer
with the silver plait.

Crimson Skies

Red mud churns
in rivers plugged
with bloated cadavers—
facedown, belly-up.

The air is vermilion
with smoke-dense spires—
villages and towns afire:
Life-thin. Forsaken.

The living stumble
in salmon mists rising
from blood-sodden earth.
Wet-soled, dragging footprints
through crusted, saturated dirt.

Staggering, ankle-deep
in the corpses of children.

What will happen when even
the skies no longer
accept innocent blood?

The Monsoon In Her Eyes

Rain pings off the aluminum roof
like a fistful of gravel thrown
at a candlelit window.

Drops bounce around her feet
like a broken string of pearls.

Tonight, no tresses catch
at my arms and throat.

No blame passes lips I have passion-bit
on wet nights, ardent and barefoot
in inch-deep puddles that collect
in the uneven corners of her terrace.

How will I ever forget
the monsoon in her eyes?

She twines one edge of her dupatta
through my fingers, stretching
it between us, red bangles clinking
on wrists screwing water from silk.

She lets her end go, leaving me
with a twisted rope of rain

that I will never return.

The Hooded Falcon

Talons flex
around the thin branch
of my arm, which shakes

from the shaheen's acceptance
of my bony offering.

The old falconer places a palm
under my elbow
to buttress the heaviness

of a tethered spirit,
wild for wind and sky.

I am still learning
to "let beauty and terror
happen to me."

Her hood removed, I meet
an executioner's stare

in the moment before she leaves me,
winging towards prey, cleaving
the sun with a hooked beak.

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