To Shahid

I had bought the The Country Without A Post Office at Shahid’s Berkeley recital. It was rare indeed for me to carry enough cash in those days of poverty-struck foreign-student/single-motherhood. But Fate was smiling that day. I went to talk to him. To tell him I absolutely loved his poems. To tell him he was so familiar. To get his autograph. Shahid asked with curiosity if I was a Kashmiri. I fumbled. Explained the history of exile. Probably got teary-eyed (yes, growing up — heck, even now — my family made fun of my quickness-to-tears). On his face quivered a moist smile, and beneath the title, Shahid wrote:


for HUMA
whose country this is –
Agha Shahid Ali


by Huma Dar

I met Shahid between noon and one pm, in the Lipman Room of Barrows Hall, almost exactly thirteen years ago, on December 3, 1998.  He’d come to recite from The Country Without A Post Office (1997) for the Lunch Poems Reading Series at UC Berkeley.  His jokes, tinged with a very particular Kashmiri black humor — irreverent, risqué, ridiculous — mirrored my family’s wacky one.  All that heartache about Kashmir, finding not many kindred souls around, found solace in Shahid’s scriptured lament, “After the August Wedding in Lahore, Pakistan.”

A brigadier says, The boys of Kashmir
break so quickly, we make their bodies sing,
on the rack, till no song is left to sing.
“Butterflies pause / On their passage Cashmere –”
And happiness: must it only bring pain?
The century is ending.  It is pain
from which love departs into all new pain:
Freedom’s terrible thirst, flooding…

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