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Two Poems

Adeeba Shahid Talukder

Episode (in which Ghalib’s grandeur is clothed with the scarlet of a woman who has lost everything)

A white room,

my madness jewelled—

the wedding night

sacred & red,

gold, glimmering.

A nurse watched

as I scribbled quickly in black

crayon, like a prophet.

God knows what poetry

those sheets held,

and what golden

threads of my imagination

were snipped that night;

I waited for you, and longed

and grieved,

and when you didn’t arrive

I began to sing,

softly, the notes

of lamentation:

I was not fated to see my beloved


And then louder

as spectacle,

(a child’s tantrum,

a God’s rage,

a man’s pleading at the execution grounds)—

without shame

or veil, my voice rose,

soared above

that cruel night & found

and troubled God,

the wine of my existence

spilled from its

delicate cup

with rapture & purpose.

Ammi, terrified,

wept and implored God

to forgive me

& forgive her

for letting the storm

and tangle of me, coiled,

burst forth

as a flood of sin.

And when I at last

descended and lost everything

of light,

I could not sing again

without the air

getting caught in my throat

and Ammi rising abruptly

to pray. Her white dupatta

clothed my sky,

and her prayers undid

the knots of dark magic,

& made of my voice

again a shrine and gave it

the softness & restraint

of a drawn arrow.

I cried out:

I have to sing to feel like I am breathing.

He advised:

If you must sing, put your mouth

inside an earthen pot,

then sing.

Ak Akhri hasrat III by Muhammad Suleman

A Song for Begum Akhtar


your cry

a dark spell—your sway

over men


Smother this flame;

a woman

isn’t made

for spectacle, a woman

can ruin a man.

Soundless, Akhtari

cloaks herself in smoke—


in it a new way

of breathing. In death

she finds life,

in glasses of whiskey

her own image.

The doctors say:

She will die if she cannot sing.

So she pulls breath

like a thread from

her red heart.

One evening

she rises to the fifth

octave &



Adeeba Shahid Talukder is a Pakistani-American poet, singer, and translator of Urdu and Persian poetry. She is the author of What Is Not Beautiful (Glass Poetry Press, 2018) and her debut collection, Shahr-e-jaanaan: The City of the Beloved (Tupelo Press, 2020) is a winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Poem-A-Day, Gulf Coast, Poetry Daily, and The Margins, and her translations in PBS Frontline and Words Without Borders. Adeeba has received fellowships from Kundiman and Poets House, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan.

Photo credit: Christopher Lucka

Born in Lahore in 1992, Muhammad Sulaman is a Pakistani visual artist, specialising in the miniature form. He graduated from NCA Lahore and completed his masters in visual arts at NCA as well. He has exhibited widely in Pakistan, as well as Italy and China.


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