Makhfi, woman poet, 1638-1701, Moghul Empire

Her pen-name, Makhfi, means “hidden.”

The nightingale forsakes the rose to see me in the garden,

The pious Brahmin will forsake his idols when he sees me–

I’m hidden in my words, like a scent within a rose’s petal,

Whoever wants to see me, it’s in my words he’ll see me.


Translated by Dick Davis in “The Mirror of my Heart: A Thousand Years of Persian Poetry by Women”

Ghazal by Agha Shahid Ali

I came upon this today when I was looking through some poetry class material. Before Agha Shahid Ali arrived on the U.S. poetry scene, American poets were writing watered down versions of the Arabic/Persian form–not to mention mispronouncing it! I heard him read years ago in Las Cruces, and was very sorry when he died relatively young.
It seems time to reflect on unity and not on the hatred of differences: “Hagar, in shards, reflects her shattered Ishmael.
Call her the desert Muslim–or Jew–of water.” This mystic form encourages all who practice the poetry of union.


But first the screened mirror, all I knew of water!
Imagine “the thirstquenching virtue of water.”

Who “kept on building castles” “Upon a certain rock”
“Glacial warden over ‘dreams come true'” of water?

Of course, I saw Chile in my rearview mirror–
it’s disappeared under a curfew of water.

Hagar, in shards, reflects her shattered Ishmael.
Call her the desert Muslim–or Jew–of water.

God, Wordless, beheld the pulled rain but missed the held sun…
The Rainbow–that Arrow!–Satan’s coup of water.

Don’t beckon me, Love, to the island of your words–
You yourself reached it, erasing my view of water.

Her star-cold palanquin goes with the caravan.
Majnoon, now she’ll be news–out of the blue–of water.

When the Beast takes off his mask, Love, let it be you
sweetening Tomorrow Doom’s taboo of water.

No need to stop the ears to the Sirens’ rhetoric;
just mock their rock-theme, O skeleton crew of water.

Are your streets, O Abraham, washed of “the Sons of Stones”?
Sand was all Ishmael once drew of water.

I have signed, O my enemy, your death-warrant.
I won’t know in time I am like you of water.

For God’s sake don’t unveil the Black Stone of K’aaba.
What if Faith too’s let love bead a dew of water?

I have even become tears to live in your eyes.
If you weep, Stark Lover, for my breakthrough of water?

Shahid’s junk mail has surfaced in a dead letter office.
He’s deluxed in the leather Who’s Who of Water.