Cathexis Northwest Press
Mosambi-Nama III; Mosambi-Nama V, For Kashmir; Mosambi-Nama VI
By: Asad Emaan Ali
You lean against my doorframe, telling me
why the satellite sits in a shadow, hiding his craters:
the wilderness is too dark at this hour.
There is indignation in every milky sky — sphere of soured dairy, witness before my silence.
You ask me what we will do when our nation has been freed.
I tell you I want for my last meal
a rabid dog, cooked stiff.
Last night I sat in a motel room
watching programs of great victories — extreme couponing
and Vitruvian men locked in rooms. They
cried in distant corners of their home.
My worst fear realized when I saw
flies landing on cheeks of trembling figures
oh, the insolence
oh, to tremble in the grammar of soft oblivion.
I am reversing deep into the night,
hearkening to the somnolence of a quilt soaked in desire.
A knot tied around my finger, pricked by a
needle of industry and the blurring of your instincts.
The great protestor, Ghulam
kissed a black stone in his dreams
and as he sat in a hospital room,
he contemplated the MRI scan of his brain
and saw a Rorschach test.
1: Mosambi-Nama: “The Book of Mosambi” (Urdu-Persian). The mosambi is a citrus fruit found in South Asia and the Middle East.
2: Vitruvian Man: A drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci, based on the ideal human body proportions as outline in the work of ancient Roman architect Vitruvius.
3: Ghulam: A masculine Arabic name which means “servant” or “slave”, commonly assigned to a Muslim child
Mosambi-Nama V, For Kashmir
False histories are all the same:
pax nationnica/better cultures, monsoon season —
it’s raining relics from the sky.
When you sent your armies to Kashmir
when you meditated, out in the wilderness and spoke of your samskar (you cannot kill)
These were moments when I realized the essence of everything is extreme.
A false history of museums:
a relic passed down in a church, to be worshipped for eternity.
This will kill the lineage once and for all —
soon, neither the mudboys nor the mudgirls will remember.
Beauty is so violent — manicures ever-present
like the ripples in a lake when you
Drop in it a rock with my name on it
Every empire is beyond redemption.
Ask me what I saw in your worst conflicts, and I will tell you:
I saw parking garages,
Harbingers of solitude.
Have you ever burdened yourself with the decadence of false relics?
Send my love to Kashmir, where a brotherly river has been stained crimson.
Now it is pouring into a glass of lassi.
4: Samskar: Mental impressions of psychological importance in Hinduism (Sanskrit).
I run into the wilderness now. You give me no choice
Oil doesn’t dissolve in your chlorinated pool waters.
What am I supposed to do, now that water is stuck in my ear?
Sometimes I just breathe all the oxygen out
and with lungs flattened, let myself sink.
Then I look up, thinking of every photon twisting through the water.
Some of the water goes up my nose and I quickly swim up. Now I’m coughing, God.
I — man of nuance and complexities — forgive you.
I — man of quartz windows — forgive you not.
Invisible wars, forgotten wars:
God bless your war on vision, God bless your war on memory.
Welcome to Country #1, this is a carnival of small crimes and big punishments.
I love you, breathing — not blue — I’m not Krishna
Now I am Power. I have so many arms and I scare my oppressors, I am power-ultimate of the sourest citrus fruit ever eaten by the troops of the _______ East _____ Company.
I — man of smog and future — sit upon a curb. Now my shalwar is mud-stained.
Is there mud in the future?
Cold mud and now I am dirty. Get off me, brown mud. Then I shoo away the mudboys, too.
Under a light the smog turns orange — now you can no longer drive to your supermarkets or restaurants.
I was watching the news the other day. They said my country is The Most Dangerous Country In The World.
Asad Emaan Ali is a Pakistani-American undergraduate at the University of Virginia. He was a finalist in the Palette Poetry 2019 Emerging Poet Prize and his work has appeared in *The A3 Review* and *High Shelf Press*
“Mosambi-Nama III”: I wrote this poem as response to the work of Frantz Fanon and his book, *Black Skin, White Masks*. Fanon as a thinker has deeply moved me, as I feel he had the insight and prescience to understand
the complexities of the human condition, especially how the destructive forces of colonialism have led to serious mental health and cultural issues in the countries now regarded as “Third World”. The poem is meant to serve
as a kind of poetic extension of the discussion of race, poverty, and how these forces can have a serious impact on one’s thinking. The last scene, in which Ghulam stares into the MRI scan and sees a Rorschach test is a comment on how the psychological pains resulting from cruelty are rarely apparent or noticeable from the outside.
“Mosambi-Nama V, For Kashmir”: This poem, as the name suggests, was written for the people of Kashmir. Writing this poem was my way of voicing my support for and bringing awareness to the plight of Kashmiris, who have
suffered through massacres, martial law, severe violations of basic human rights, and overall military occupation since before the Partition. The crisis in Kashmir is not an issue of India, Pakistan, or China. It is a representation of humanity as a whole, and we must stand for the innocent people there who have endured a nightmare for far too long.
“Mosambi-Nama VI”: I wrote this poem as a kind of critique of the media coverage and perception of my native Pakistan in the West. I wanted to draw attention to the colonialist and imperialist attitudes such coverage takes in its representation of the “other”, a label often encompassing people like me. I recall seeing a headline on TV in which Pakistan was referred to as “the most dangerous country in the world”. I felt that as a Pakistani-American, I should raise the question right back at the people who use such reductionist terms, asking them to re-evaluate their assumptions.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
Asad Emaan Ali:
I’ve been writing poetry for a little over six years; I started when I was in high school, and ever since then it has been an integral part of my life. I think I’m still pretty early in my literary career, which makes it so fresh and challenging to write, even if it gets a little bit exhausting and stressful sometimes.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
The first poem I read that made me fall in love with the art form was actually in Urdu — I remember listening to a ghazal by the great poet Ghalib, whom I was named after, and having an “aha!” moment. The ghazal begins with the lines, “Har ek baat pe kehte ho tum ke ‘tu kya hai?’” (Upon every move you ask me, ‘who are you?’). I had found a dynamic, almost cryptic art form to share all of my thoughts with my audience and still not give anything away about myself.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Ghalib is definitely my all-time favorite poet. Besides him, I love the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I’m also an avid reader of the great mystical works of Rumi. Besides these three, I enjoy the works of Pablo Neruda, Allen Ginsberg, Li-Young Lee, Danez Smith, and Franny Choi. There are many, many more whom I look up to and adore, and of course many more poems as well. Recently I’ve been really captured by the epic poem Shahnameh by Ferdowsi, which is one of the sources of inspiration of my Mosambi-Nama series. In a lot of ways, being a reader is even more fun than being a writer!
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in
I don’t really consciously decide to begin writing on any given day. Whenever I try that I find that the ideas that come to me feel forced and artificial. Instead, I just trust myself to go about my daily life and observe my surroundings. More often than not, I see something strange or beautiful and quickly take out my phone or notebook to write an idea down. In time, these ideas are laced together based on common themes to create a poem in a somewhat nonlinear method. I then use the editing phase to make the poem flow a little more smoothly.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
Generally, those similarly-themed thoughts and lines coming together are pretty much the only way I ever decide on form. I find that free verse works best for my poetry because of the intermittent and irregular nature of my writing process. The one area where I generally do make a conscious decision is figuring out a rough estimate of the length of the poem I’m trying to write. I love writing long poems, but sometimes I’m able to say everything that I need to say in a shorter number of lines. That aspect of form is something I’m still trying to better understand; overall, these processes do not really feel like exact sciences.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Be more willing to take literary risks early on in a poem. Really allow yourself to speak openly and broadly for a bit as you try to get a sense of what the poem is about. In time, you’ll find yourself sharpening the resolution of the poem instinctively in the editing process. While this approach certainly won’t work for everybody, it has worked for me during the times when I have been struggling with starting or finishing a poem. Not everything has to be 100% precise or accurate in the beginning; allow yourself the room to mess up. Write multiple drafts and variations if you have to! Poetry is really great because there is no set formula to getting it right. All you have to do is focus on the art form itself, and in time, you will find your voice through that cathartic process.
What is your editing process like?
It can be really challenging to know exactly what a poem needs to be finished; in fact, this is probably the most challenging step of writing a poem! In general, I use this time to really scrutinize each and every word and phrase to make sure that every part of the poem is fulfilling its role. Often I have to let go of a phrase or word that I love in the poem, but this is part of the process. At some point, you have to make sacrifices and let go of what you want in favor of what the poem needs.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
Again, there aren’t really any strictly-set parameters here, but for my own work, if I feel like I’ve told a complete story or if I’ve conveyed a particular mood or feeling, then I know I’ve done my job. Poetry can be a cryptic language, and I enjoy taking advantage of that and not always offering an easy solution to the questions I raise.