In memory of Agha Shahid Ali: Forever

Agha Shahid Ali, around 1998 (Image from the interview for the 'Poets of New England' series with William Moebius)
Agha Shahid Ali, around 1998 (Image from the interview for the ‘Poets of New England’ series with William Moebius)

By Steffen Horstmann



Do you seek, like Jonah, to be elusive forever–

To live like an ascetic, reclusive forever?


You traversed deserts & abide in a mirage,

Within the shade of a fig & olive forever.


The temple scribe said you were fated to stray

In radiant absence, as wind lisps its narrative forever.


Sand rises around you, a volatile vacuum–O escape

To the mind’s habitable star, fugitive forever.


In a vision you emerge from an emerald sea, immersed

In the light that pours through a cloud’s sieve forever.


Shahid, I left you sleeping in a bed of light–knowing

It was I you were destined to forgive forever.


Of Blue & Gold


The mirrors that shimmered

As Radha’s saris blazed blue & gold.


The Oracle’s voice whispering

From sacred vases glazed blue & gold.


The pulsing suns of Andromeda

Fiery comets grazed, blue & gold.


The distant fires of cities

Alexander razed, blue & gold.


The windy caverns with shadows

Of djinns that blazed blue & gold.


The gleaming horizons studded

With stars that blazed blue & gold.

The meteor showers like crystal rain
In  nebulas that blazed blue & gold.


Shahid’s vision of burning mountains

Twilit smoke hazed blue & gold.


[Sprinting djinns cast fleet shadows around you]


Sprinting djinns cast fleet shadows around you,

Forming a black vortex that flows around you.


Moths whirred through webs in torch-lit ruins

As wraiths like twisting smoke rose around you.


A nebula’s kaleidoscope is infused with starlight

That forms brief paisleys in shadows around you.


Phosphorous galaxies blaze in the kiln of auroras

As a bonfire’s flames cast dancing shadows around you.


You had woken in the rubble of a minaret when from

Smoking pyres flocks of phoenixes rose around you.


As clouds are bursting with the moon’s vermilion light

Wind-stripped trees cast cruciform shadows around you.


In the marble corridors of tombs mystics chant sutras–

Shrill voices ringing in torrents of echoes around you.


Circling flocks of Persian falcons create maelstroms

In clouds whipping downward to form tornadoes around you.


As a bladed moon lit the ruins of a Roman arena

The armored spectres of gladiators rose around you.


Shards of light burst from a daemon’s crystal,

Casting minute prisms & rainbows around you.


A dream of silk spinning from the cocoons of moths–

The white shroud a needle of light sews around you.


The Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali has written the famous, The Country Without a Post Office and several other poetry books. Ali died in December 2001. Steffen Horstmann was Shahid’s student at the University of Arizona. His poems and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Baltimore Review, Common Ground Review, Istanbul Literary Review, Louisiana Literature, Texas Poetry Journal, and Tiferet. His book of poems Jalsaghar will be published this November by Kariboux Limited.

Read our special coverage on Agha Shahid Ali here.

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