Over the years, I find myself returning again and again to the luminous verse of the great Kashmiri-American poet, Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001). This particular favorite can be found in A Nostalgist’s Map of America via his collected works, The Veiled Suite.
“Beyond the Ash Rains”
What have you known of loss
That makes you different from other men?
When the desert refused my history,
refused to acknowledge that I had lived
there, with you, among a vanished tribe,
two, three thousand years ago, you parted
the dawn rain, its thickest monsoon curtains,
and beckoned me to the northern canyons.
There, among the red rocks, you lived alone.
I had still not learned the style of nomads:
to walk between the rain drops to keep dry.
Wet and cold, I spoke like a poor man,
without irony. You showed me the relics
of our former life, proof that we’d at last
found each other, but in your arms I felt
singled out for loss. When you lit the fire
and poured the wine, “I am going,” I murmured,
repeatedly, “going where no one has been
and no one will be… Will you come with me?”
You took my hand, and we walked through the streets
of an emptied world, vulnerable
to our suddenly bare history in which I was,
but you said won’t again be, singled
out for loss in your arms, won’t ever again
be exiled, never again, from your arms.