Friday poem (Sunday): Of Snow

20 12 2009

A Friday poem on Sunday?

Why not?  The point is the poem, not the day.

In any case, the Blithes were in town on Friday, and the day began disconcertedly early—the three delightful children lacked the capacity to sleep in—and lasted late. I fell into bed shortly after Mrs. & Mr. pointed their rental car toward New Hampshire, and, waking Saturday, felt the need for a second sleep.

I was knackered, in other words. I did manage to attend a birthday party (which the birthday girl herself did not attend) in a non-Upper East Side bar on the UES, but even then, was merely contentedly slow and warm.

In any case, C. asked if a Friday poem were forthcoming. Something to do with snow or friends, I said.

It snowed here, by the way: big midwestern flakes, floating and whirling and shooting down. A proper storm

So this, a poem by by Agha Shahid Ali, an Indian poet who worked in ghazals, poems composed of thematically-similar couplets, and which are a common form across Iran, India, and Pakistan. Although he died young—at 52—in his too-few decades he wrote and published well, and opened the United States to the beauties of the ghazal.

When I wrote poetry I rarely worked in formal structures, preferring to concentrate on the sound and rhythm over the particularities of meter and verse. I didn’t disdain such formalities (at least, not once I got beyond my eighth-grade Beat phase), but considered them something to work up to. The movement toward these forms ceased along with my poetry writing.

I was introduced to the ghazal and Ali through The Nation and The New Yorker, and, while thoroughly intimidated by the rigors of the ghazal, was nonetheless swept up by Ali’s poetry. There is a gracefulness in how the words become the structure, and in so doing, simultaneously transcend and fulfill the promise of the ghazal.

See for yourself, on this day in the aftermath of the storm:

Of Snow

Husband of Water, where is your Concubine of Snow?
Has she laced your flooded desert with a wine of snow?

What a desert we met in—the foliage was lush!—
a cactus was dipped into every moonshine of snow.

One song is so solitaire in our ring of mountains,
its echo climbs to cut itself at each line of snow.

The sky beyond its means is always beside itself
till (by the plane) each peak rises, a shrine of snow.

Snowmen, inexplicably, have gathered in the Sahara
to melt and melt and melt for a Palestine of snow.

Kali turned to ice one winter, her veins transparent—
on her lips blood froze. A ruby wine of snow!

If Lorca were alive he would again come to New York,
bringing back to my life that one Valentine of snow.

Do you need to make angels, really, who then vanish
or are angels all you can undermine of snow?

I who believe in prayer but could never in God
place roses at your grave with nothing to divine of snow.

When he drinks in winter, Shahid kisses his enemies.
For Peace, then, let bars open at the first sign of snow.