Death flies in, thin bureaucrat, from the plains—
a one-way passenger, again. The monsoon rains
smash their bangles, like widows, against the mountains.
Our hands disappear. He travels first class, sipping champagne.
One-way passengers again, the monsoon rains
break their hands. Will ours return, ever, to hold a bouquet?
He travels first class. Our hands disappear. Sipping champagne,
he goes through the morning schedule for Doomsday.
‘Break their hands.’ Will ours return with guns, or a bouquet?
Ice hardens its fat near his heart. We’re cut to the brains.
He memorizes, clause by clause, the contract for Doomsday.
We mourn the martyrs of Karbala, our skins torn with chains.
Ice hardens its fat near his heart, and we’re cut to the brains.
Near the ramp colonels wait with garlands by a jeep.
(O mourners, Husain bleeds, tear your skins with chains!)
The plane lands. In the Vale the children are dead, or asleep.
He descends. The colonels salute. A captain starts the jeep.
The Mansion by the lake awaits him with roses. He’s driven
through streets bereft of children: they are dead, not asleep,
O, when will our hands return, if only broken?
The Mansion is white, lit up with roses. He is driven
through streets in which blood flows like Husain’s.
Our hands won’t return to us, not even mutilated, when
Death comes—thin bureaucrat—from the plains.
—Agha Shahid Ali