Waqas Khwaja (Pakistan)

Waqas Khwaja (Pakistan)
paths of desire
Night after night
Food where it is needed
prickled clay
The Blind Horseman
Waqas Khwaja has published four collections of poetry, Hold Your Breath, No One Waits for the Train, Mariam’s Lament, and Six Geese from a Tomb at Medum, a literary travelogue, Writers and Landscapes, about his experiences as a fellow of the IWP, and three edited anthologies of Pakistani literature, Cactus, Mornings in the Wilderness and Short Stories from Pakistan, presenting a selection of work originally written in English as well as poetry and fiction from Urdu and Punjabi in English translations he undertook especially for these publications. He served as translation editor (and contributor) for Modern Poetry of Pakistan, a project jointly sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts and the Pakistan Academy of Letters, which showcases the work of 44 poets from seven of Pakistan’s national and regional languages. He has guest-edited a special issue of scholarly articles on Pakistani Literature for the Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies and another on Pakistani poetry for Atlanta Review. A regular contributor to The Frontier Post, The Pakistan Economic Review, The Pakistan Times, News International, The Nation, and The Friday Times between 1983 and 1992, Khwaja was a practicing lawyer and visiting professor of law in Pakistan before migrating to the U.S. in 1993 to pursue an academic career in literature. He has published articles and essays on writers from a variety of linguistic and literary traditions and on subjects as wide-ranging as literature and economics, history, culture, and politics. He is the Ellen Douglass Leyburn Professor of English at Agnes Scott College, where he teaches courses in Postcolonial literature, British Romanticism, Narratives of Empire, Gothic literature, Victorian poetry and fiction, Literature and Leadership, and Creative Writing. He has a Ph.D. in English from Emory University, LL.B. from the Punjab University Law College, Lahore, and an honorary fellowship from the International Writing Program (IWP), University of Iowa. His poems and translations have appeared in US, Pakistani, Indian, European, East Asian and Far Eastern publications, literary journals, and anthologies. Khwaja regularly organizes poetry readings for social and political causes and arranges open public readings annually at Agnes Scott College as part of the international “100 Thousand Poets for Change” project. Additional information may be found on his website: wkhwaja.agnesscott.org.
paths of desire
clueless in a forest of tracks
trailing and scrubbing
my own
baffled footmarks
what bird or beast
lurks in the heart
what shadow falls
and clouds the radiance
of the path
another day
when spring has passed
and summer gone
and fall has shed its leaves
appears once more
the bluebird of March
in the frost of late December
i hear it still
summoning me
though the listening ear has crumbled
and the heart become
a scorpion’s home
alive as first
out of a book it flew
from the schoolroom of my youth
and alighted on the ledge
of its open window
beckoning me
Night after night
Air in motion
Is it breath or breeze picking up
I will myself not to look behind me
I carry no black beans to throw over my shoulder
The soles of my feet stained and scraped
My hands unwashed
Earshot to earshot news travels
That kook is abroad again
Shut your windows, keep your doors locked
Theirs is not the house I seek
Theirs, not the company
My journey lies across the river
Boatman, you do not mock me like the others
Will you not ferry me across tonight
The sky beyond is lit with stars
Night after night I have come and begged you
Night after night you shake your head
And row away
Back to bread and cheese I go that no one eats
Milk and rice that lies untouched by the doorstep
Water still in its solitary glass
And again each night I venture out
Through jeers and taunts
With only the assurance of air in motion
Like breeze picking up
Like sound as of breathing behind me
Food, where it is needed
In the end, I would like to renounce life
But I don’t know why I need to pull
My hair out by the roots to signify this
It is already sparse, and I would
Prefer rather whatever of it is left
Grow to the end in straggly strands, to not
Worry about grooming or washing it
Or violence against the body either
The rest I have no issues with, and in
The forest or wilderness of scrub and bush
I would go about as I am, naked
As far as that is possible, for the hide
May remain a while with me still
Perhaps I will survive on berries
And young shoots, on leaf and thorn fruit
Perhaps I will let myself starve to death
Slowly—that would be best, so I may pass
Into the buzzing soil and insect life
Around me, without disturbing another’s
Peace or comfort, but providing rather
Food where it is needed, and compost
It should not be difficult to make
An exit from the world of humans
When all is seen, and said, and done
To step into company far more
Multitudinous and diverse, to be
Many lives unselfconscious and free
Than to be enclosed by consciousness
Confined to the prison house of one
prickled clay
my potter’s hands are cut
on the glass shards of your body
but it is in the nature of glass
to cut when it shatters
and I realize soon enough
it was only I
who was blotted out
not sure if it ended up
liberating you
or setting me free
not sure if what I see
is myself multiplied
into a million fragments
or you in those broken pieces
perilously familiar
and hopelessly indifferent
in a million versions
of yourself myself
and the prickled lump of clay
spins and jumps on the wheel
quickening with life
all on its own
my shredded palms
defying affinity and discord
its flying splinters
canceling out my eyes
leaving me scrabbling
in utter darkness
as I seek to hold on to you
with my torn hands
The Blind Horseman
Last night we became strangers to each other again
The horseman leapt in the saddle and galloped across the wide plain
I watched helplessly as he vanished in the hills barricading the cities beyond the horizon
The sound of hooves hung in the air
Before their stinging susurrations returned his parting words
You only have the freedom you exercise
The rest is bit and bridle
But did you hear the silence behind all the noise before his departure
I could have sworn it was always there amid the ardor of voices
The tidal ebb and flow all night of bodies in hot distress
The tinkling of harness bells, the stamping of hooves
The thud with which this worn-out bag of our dreams was dumped at our feet
And he, who had bound us, each to each, with seven supple stems
Turning upon his heel and leaving abruptly
Yet it was you and I who were estranged from each other
That beat-up bag of dreams left lying by itself on the wayside
Wind blowing hard across it, sweeping up leaves and dust, spinning them around and away
And dark clouds in the distance drifting silently in
Ready to split and erupt in rain that would batter and drench and wash
All that did not belong away with it


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