two poems by Rizwan Akhtar


The maids of the city of dust

The days stay in dust-clouds of streets
The walls of houses burn in heat
some only want a silent shadow

Tired from herding wages women sweat profusely
hands are soaked in controlled brooms
leaning back on their dresses sticking out
their bursting breasts are an architect’s site

but women of dust build up like traffic
lousy children ran over their bodies
smashing bones to seductive turns

You wouldn’t put a street to a thorough cleaning
and a woman’s body to forensic for the shreds
of bricks and mortar in her stomach where
her umbilical cord is now cemented after years
of clipping and cleaving

Only nights and roofs hide dust, like forgotten love
It changes colour and dies in a corner where again
a woman simmers for absence, then a long sky
with no stars meets more sky, and there is no hand
to go through smutty hairs,
The city comes alive in her gaze moping
whatever comes her way, layers and layers of litter.

Inside American Embassy Islamabad

Behind a glassy window
I meet a pink-white flat face
years of doggedness claims
his still eyebrows
and fingers working on keyboard
storing the story of my life
as if I surrendered my copy rights instantly.

Clutching a bulged envelope
like a child I was spanked to silence,
I had to measure my chances secretly
beside the height and the spill-over effect
of biometrics, something is taken away
my hands’ skin chaffed
for the rest of the day,
they placed me in boxes,
tabbing selecting details of rows and rows
of applicants murmuring and nudging
like unwanted poems whittle for interpretations
and find their way to uninterested listeners.

The wall-picture of a white hawk snaps
my home-grown pretensions.
The history is strangled inside barbed walls;
over vast gravel spaces diplomats’ black cars
crunch their presence.

Shuttle service hiccup
at emblematic gates of embassies
emit people like prisoners
apply parole by choice.
Back there in Brooklyn a friend anticipates
my arrival—cold winds of Margalla Hills
bring a calming proximity of the shrine
Of Bari Imam where dervishes
in patched clothes smile and
last night lamps carry waxen shapes
of journeys of souls accepting everything.

The man behind window remains busy
his complacent jaws expands
like an empire manages
through a single click of word
to each answer — Refused.

Rizwan Akhtar works as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Punjab University, Lahore Pakistan. He completed his PhD in postcolonial literature from the University of Essex, UK in 2013. He has published poems in well-established poetry magazines of the UK, US, India, Canada, and New Zealand.  He has also done a 5 weeks workshop on poetry with Derek Walcott at the University of Essex in 2010.

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