Three Poems by Ashfaq Saraf

Photograph by Uzma Falak

When you’re here

The night was an enclosure
wrapping in its folds poverty, abundance—both,
when you’re here, the morning a wringing
forth of fitful cravings,

evenings meandered through grey alleyways
unmindful of the bends ahead
like little children groping for their aunts’ breasts
taking them for their absent mothers’,

night sky lamented
loss of daylight bleeding stars through its wounds,
it was as if everything under the sky wanted
to belong somewhere,

homeless on pavements
disappeared aimlessly into inner streets fearing
rain and thunder,

many a Muslim was murdered
behind the street corner & his blood haggled
for a word or two of patriotism,

the exiles were
seen returning to nooks around which they are
wont to talking how it all could have been

it was then that furious afternoon sun
perished in the din of hodmen’s unfailing footsteps
leaving trails of conspicuous sweat on parts of their
women’s blouse, those women selling corn blowing
pipes at charcoal embers,
smelling of smoke and sweat and

fat boys eating at burger joints laughed
through their teeth revealing
nothing of the order
by which their rich fathers came to be.

You’ve returned to the seashores
now things are as they could always have been
sunsets, one after another,
reek of corpses lying long unattended
people go about their routines
as if future glories of world belong to them, the
laborer doesn’t know his job is wrecking his lungs,
food rots away in sealed canes for want
of an opportune hunger, nights stall,
days fester, water is a disease, air is smoke, smoke
fills poor man’s lungs, the face of the city is exile,
the nooks are ravaged, exiles have made peace
with what they (now) think could not have
been avoided, emaciated children
die of hunger, each word is spoken twice before
meanings could be agreed upon, lovers
submit to the dictates of custom, girls are burnt alive,
mothers cry, fathers frown, many a Muslim
man is a patriot—now that you’re not here.


This summer
(Written in September 2016}

The smell of air
begrudges taste
cherries couldn’t deliver

this summer

we celebrate coming together of fists
words spitted
like no days forthcoming
could be waited upon

these might as well
count as dangerous trends, for
shackles are broken promises
to be flung apart

the same may not be said
of pelleted eyes when
offered reluctantly
to the gaping mouth of azure skies

distant sound
of teargas shells
gallops over the dim-lit path
hewn by rashid hafiz’s falsetto
the underbrush of night’s immense forest

yesterday, we
ran to beds on bleeding feet
our battered skin ached for its old self
children shrunk
to two feet of darkness
their tiny hands hemmed in

a boy
pulled out from the blue
of a rugged pair of jeans
is delivered
like a shriek from the underbelly of night
to have the day unburden its entrails

two streets
behind the police station
many a stray dog
howls its way to the nearest dumpsite
under the streetlamp
the food smells almost like when served
women singing in chorus
drown bones crunching between dogs’ teeth

dawn creaks
the light gingerly reveals curtains
one must wake up
perform an ablution
face the murders left by the night in its wake
kindle the hearth
and partake in the gravedigger’s toil

in the morning
air breaks free of night’s swollen embrace
Jehlum slithers
down the nape of a neonate hope
the green of woods
hisses life through its pine-lungs
sunlight scurries along
as we watch the feet march forthwith.



 I spend no night away from you; in
ad hoc corners of seasonal darkness
fragments of last summer fly
towards me — green foliage
ripened cherry
sodden earth
raw walnuts
unmorbific mosquitoes
temperate breeze
nights’ starred skies —
consuming the ashen muscles
I sleep upon. My feet burn
in revulsion.
The cavalcade of smoke retires into my
ash settles like
neonate snow over my dugout shoulders;
Home is an away place.

relentlessly adhere to their ground.

crawl over naked skin
not in the imitation of serpents
in awe of withering flower buds rather.

Nothing changes between us. Almonds
harvest in autumn. My
fingers are dirty sweated in summer. You shrivel
about burying your boys
beside snowy playgrounds; I scuffle
with the guard at
my office gates, staring into his clumsy eye.
Snow in my eyes melts away from rooftops
farther away from Yamuna bridges
no more music laden in tip, tap, tip…….tap;
eyes are reflected back against
blurry breaks on cheval glass
I see seas drowning into men’s solitude
water splashed across their sere foreheads;
I see life in pause about a furor
at dawn — dewy grass smudged by
downpour of summer-harsh sunbeams.


We burst into tears and fatigue
lampoons us in bed
Sunrise announces new nights
old days die
a stray dog’s death: unattended
like under military trucks
on roads winding about yellow-green of mustard
fields; winding about a paste of silent eyes
winding about an unfurling of apple orchards
on roads clad in vivid brevity of longish poplars
in precise longevity of insistent poplars.
New nights arrive in haste; not in
haste, not in haste… vile boredom…..vile.


So we plead for winters; I plead for winters
though winter is no garment
and snow does not reveal your face bent
over my absence and
hidden behind clouds and white clouds and black clouds;
some men eat clad in shrouds
and speak being fed in overflowing spoons
who knows not of delirious afternoons?


In whose city shall we meet again, who’ll
open the gates to
let our exile pass. If I ask them to fill
my wounds with salt, who’ll
go and beseech the little child in the corner
not to scream, not to scream?
Who’ll eat with us and remain hungry
till another meal? ♦

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