Shadab Zeest Hashmi

Shadab Zeest Hashmi

Shadab Zeest Hashmi’s books include award-winning poetry collections Baker of Tarifa and Kohl and Chalk, and a volume of essays and poetry titled Ghazal Cosmopolitan which has been praised by Marilyn Hacker as “a marvelous interweaving of poetry, scholarship, literary criticism and memoir.” Comb, her latest book, is a lyric memoir selected by Julia Bouwsma as the Best Hybrid Book 2019. Winner of the San Diego Book Award, the Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize, and nominated for the Pushcart multiple times, Zeest Hashmi’s poetry has been featured in the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (UK), translated into Spanish, Turkish, Bosnian and Urdu, and has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, most recently in World Literature Today, Thrush, Wasafiri, Poem, The Cortland Review, Prairie Schooner, Vallum, McSweeney’s In the Shape of a Human Body I am Visiting the Earth and Best Asian Poetry 2021. Zeest Hashmi’s essays, which engage with world history, cultures of encounter, aesthetics, the craft of poetry and the life of the spirit, appear in publications worldwide, including Best Spiritual Literature 2024 (forthcoming from Orison Books).

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“To the Poet who Saved his Sleep in the Hourglass” is a series of Qasida poems modeled after Lorca’s “Casidas,” (Qasidas) which, like his “gacelas,” (Ghazals) are Spanish lyric poems written in the vein of, and in homage to, the Arabic poetry of al-Andalus (Spain, 711-1492).

This series of Qasida poems explores the possibility of conveying the sonic textures of the worlds that Lorca (re-)created in his poems, plays and drawings. Lorca’s works, inspired by multiple aural, visual, cultural and historical threads, are distinctive in the way they filter through the singular aesthetic of desire/loss— a quintessential element of his Andalucian (Andalusi) artistic heritage and naturally suited to the sensibility of a perpetually haunted spirit such as Lorca.


Qasida of the Saddlebag

Along the rhizome of your hunted heart, the
moonlit path you speak of, and a mare of
sapphire crystal galloping to Cordoba—
promised to clouds of dust. While you fill
your saddlebag with olives, I fill my
mouth with ransom stories to escape the
Guantanamos of my century. The
wind stammers like Moses, the beloved
unveiled. Our moon spins around Cordoba,
our mare, radiant, gallops past prison guards.

Qasida of Oranges

You know my heart beats in fistfuls of
seeds that will grow eternal oranges
The scent already hangs like a shawl
sewn of hours, a time-nest on my shoulders
And what are these leaves if not fluttering
signposts in the labyrinth between pigs and
your topaz green valley? When you are lost,
the Saqi mixes one hundred gacelas,
deepens your edges, steadies and slakes
the thirst of time till the ends of the orchard.

Qasida of the Mutilated Roofs

Coral angel sinks in the straits of
Gibraltar, a wing resting on each
continent, finds in the waters a city
of mutilated roofs, walls stinging with
the acid smiles of informants, heads
hollowed for prey to hide, tiaras held
in swollen fingers. The song that quakes its
chest is a tufted duck’s call: rumor of
a past love. Like a bruise, time spreads across
the jaw of the coast, calendar of wounds.

Qasida of the Polished Stone

From cante jondo, pounce cheetahs, and from
honey, come hauntings coalesced with bees
working a history— the one polished
citrine in your attic. The river that steals
your sleep is blood. It runs straight through mobbed
mezqitas, it is an accordion
that keeps the corpse’s mouth singing for
justice, it is the untouched swine of
conversos, it is the cardinal ice
under a breast beaten in regret.

Qasida of the Blind Well

Where cages sway with captive melodies,
mirrors in anthills bring down the moon.
Those bullet-holes, still hot, once nightingales,
suspired love arrested and hung from charred
branches. You raise your white-cuffed, dexterous
hand to the lolling buds of the forest’s
embroidery. You kiss the sadness of seams,
and into the blind well you toss the holy
warnings, the inquisition’s spiked gloves.
You return, with the fireflies, to settle.

Poetry in this post: © Shadab Zeest Hashmi
Published with the permission of Shadab Zeest Hashmi