on yarn

The weaver traces movement

Wrapping yarn around wood
thread on thread on thread wound
together the red of blood and country

Yarn wraps around country
around history and blood
through the language of spaces

Pulling earth and sound and song
around itself, drawing it down
like blood and history

Weaving fibrous articulations
of presence reminding you
of where you stand

when you stand on stolen land


This snakeheaded script rises
round bellied and adorned
hooks and swirls from right
to left, a dance across the page
across the skin, freckles distinguishing
triplets from twins

So many letters for breath, so many
for the silences we mouth  
as the languages recedes
to sleep in our bones, the ribs
of the ayn, the beh, the choti yeh,
the arched brow of the madda,
the bardi yeh a foot

and everywhere a scattering
of teeth



promises are dangerous things

Repeat after me
after this you will be free
Repeat after me
after this, this time, you will be free

Practice, practice, practice
turn protest to siyah mashq
crowded speech captured

repetition becomes noise
black on black on black

This is not a pen.

This is not paper.

There is no moving on.



these words – a haunting

The first sound I remember is the vibration of my grandfather’s voice in the walls of my mother’s childhood home in Pakistan. The paranoia that sets in when one war ends and another is about to begin ensured that these walls were built extra thick – too thick, we learned later, for regular wi-fi to penetrate – and yet even they couldn’t help but move to his song.

He was singing a ghazal – one of the old classics that my grandparents’ gathered friends would sigh along to. I had no idea what the words he was singing meant, but even at two or three years old I could hear and feel the deep longing that twined through them, could see our guests’ eyes shining with tears as they mouthed the words of an old poem sung against the reedy hum of the harmonium.

In that house, my mother and grandmother taught me the two scripts that carried all our languages. The roman script of English, French and Turkish, marching straight from left to right, and the nastaliq script of Urdu, Persian, and Punjabi, swooping its way across the page from right to left.

Over the years, the roman script has asserted its dominance in my life over and over again. It is an alphabet I use automatically, one I reach for and scribble in without being conscious of having made a choice, one I abbreviate with confidence knowing I will know what I meant when I read over my notes. It is the alphabet I have used to write this.

On the other hand, although I speak Urdu regularly and fluently, I only see the nastaliq script when I go looking for it. The rest of the time it lurks in the textbooks gathering dust at the very top of my bookshelf or peers at me from the spines of the venerable books I have pilfered from my grandmother’s library over the years. Encounters with it in the wild are often startling, like seeing an old friend unexpectedly.

That moment of recognition in which what is buried deep in you emerges alive, as if it never left; when you inhale in one language and exhale in another; a shift as your consciousness stretches – that moment is precious.

Because language isn’t just script or vocabulary or sound. It is the practiced inherited gestures that are inscribed on us and that we in turn leave traces of behind us. Without this weaving of self and story, these lines and shapes would be lifeless, meaningless. Without the ache, there would be no song.