Translation of Perveen Shakir’s verses
These verses of Urdu poetry have been translated by Naima Rashid who is an author, poet, and literary translator. Her forthcoming works include her own poetry and fiction, as well as a series of literary translations from Urdu, Punjabi, and French into English (after 2020). Her writings on visual arts and other subjects have appeared in Newsline magazine and other publications. ‘Defiance of the Rose’ is her first book and includes selected poems by legendary Urdu poet Perveen Shakir.
Beyond the Night
When my head lay bared
and I was locked out
of my own house
‘You are dead for us’,
the family’s steely silence pronounced
and without as much as a word
I left forever my father’s house.
I looked towards my lover
with a quiet knowing confidence
but the lakes of his eyes had frozen over
as if never a water lily had ever bloomed there for me.
I stood alone under the bare sky
clenching my son to my chest
‘Oh god! Where should I go?’
A night that loomed ahead like a mountain’s crest
blood-thirsty wolves on all four sides
and hounds tracking down woman’s scent.
Vengeful eyes seeking blood,
leacherous eyes making a pass,
scornful laughter that ripped me to shreds,
and a bellow from hell
that rang like death’s knell.
Roaring gusts of wind like raucous belly laughs,
rain that stang like sarcasm’s pangs —
I was stoned in from all sides.
The gossamer veil of a night
stood between me
and my sanity’s flight.
Suicide itself was waiting to ensnare
I almost walked into its lair
when a kind shadow approached and said
‘No matter what the world says,
You are dear to us as you are.’
I cried so much that day
that were the world an empty cauldron,
my tears would have flooded it over.
To this day remains in her embrace
my lament of an existence –
his angels sends
some grieving hearts to mend.
On a sunset-tinged mount
three witches, three sisters in evil, are meeting again,
muttering a name in their chants,
watching their surroundings with darting snake-like eyes,
with the insatiable, timeless gluttony of vultures
slathering their slimy tongues across crusty, crimson lips.
A seemingly pleasant news steeped in poisoned waters
they are waiting to deliver to that lowly being
in whose empty chest no gem of gratitude jingles.
He who sought the office is also apprised of the news of battle,
the devotion of a lifetime fetched not a farthing in the balance.
But what will become of that rose coloured dagger,
still clutched between trembling hands
whose bloodied scent drills down to the roots of the house?
In the fearful heart haunted by demons of its own conjuring
no trace of sleep passes,
startled eyes are accursed to eternal wakefulness.
Sleep slips through the eyes like fish through fingers
as if it has a premonition of nightmares to come.
Like the wakeful eye, this dreamless hour
has come upon a trembling hand too.
On the lip of the coast of Arabian Sea,
an old woman seeks a cure
of musk and ambergris.
Her hand is in the water
and in her eye has dawned
a thirst for all the oceans of the world.
Talking to Myself
All these folks around me
speak a whole other language,
That wavelength at which
I was connected to them
has fallen through to another orb.
Either my diction became foreign,
or their idiom turned strange.
The way I say the things I say,
they say those things another way.
I am silent to preserve
the sanctity of words.
This, then, has become the sum of my talks
my shadow, this solitude and these walls.
I shudder to think
as I continue to shrink
deeper and deeper
within myself —
what if I lose the frequency
at which I talk to myself,
and one day, I am left behind,
screaming ‘May Day!’, ‘May Day!’ in the void.
Karachi is that dispensable whore
that, from across the planet’s rim,
any man with wallet fat or slim,
spends the night with at his whim,
and when he’s done with her,
as soon as daylight peeps through the curtain’s flap,
on her right cheek, gives a tight slap,
and, expecting her to turn the other cheek,
drunk already on the stupor of the night to come,
jaunts off to work, his livelihood to eke.
Between innocence and idiocy is a moment’s mile
Last year post-monsoon, in my town,
such a nerve-wrecking perfume shot around,
that, caught in its bribe,
all the wise men of my tribe
have muddied the membrane of their eyes.
They were always simple to begin with,
now, near jasmine bushes and pointy reeds
stung senseless by the poison, they sleep.
No sooner than the vapors in their mouth
begin to glide
that thorns should turn to roses, that is no surprise.
What’s strange is that
despite the presence of the bushes on fire
these heirs of the milky founts of Paradise
mistake this mucous for the elixir of life.
Between innocence and idiocy is a moment’s mile
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