person Hibah Shabkhez, two poems

Hibah Shabkhez is a writer of the half-yo literary tradition, an erratic language-learning enthusiast, a teacher of French as a foreign language and a happily eccentric blogger from Lahore, Pakistan. Studying life, languages and literature from a comparative perspective across linguistic and cultural boundaries holds a particular fascination for her.

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THE ORANGE TOWEL-TURBAN

“We are originally from Afghanistan, but I have never been there
I grew up in Islamabad in Pakistan; officially, I belong here -”
So we first meet, upon this Persian-carpeted threshold
Of this Francilian ghost of our familiar drawing-rooms
Right down to the embroidered velvet curtains that hold
Their own weight in preposterously intricate blooms

We talk in English; this not-mother-tongue lends us words
To speak in this not-patrie we both call home for now;
Already we know the feather of which we are both birds –
That would-be elite class dépaysé without quite knowing how
Two ‘burger-bachay’ of twin countries half-bombed to rubble
But not refugees – we have the money to keep us out of trouble

The orange towel-turban with its strippety white blanks she drapes
Around her freshly-washed head like Lakshami-bai’s own crown:
Upon the uplifted neck one carefully stray curl wanders down.
But that deliberately, painfully lightened complexion that scrapes
Her rich wheaten hue for a patchy sallowness one shade fairer,
Betrays the ostrich hiding in a sand that will have none of her

Thus we smile and yammer on feverishly for an hour
Cringing away within from this mirror that must scald
Our one common legend tells us: truth turns jokes sour
The jester must hang when the king is indeed bald.

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FOOTPRINTS

I dreamt of the Eagle’s mountain
From my nest upon the open plain;
I dreamt of the river cusp reflecting
My singed heart in a snow-fountain

My footprints upon the golden sands
Were swept out by her trembling hands
Lest the seeker unwarily should tread
My path instead of the gilded lands

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