Poetry Sunday: “Ghazal for the Girl in the Photo,” by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

Ghazal for the Girl in the Photo    You became the girl with the piercing eyes when you found your country swiped by a stranger In Kabul snow, a missile turned your mother into coal, your last tears were wiped by a stranger A garden once hung from your name like the perfume of wild apple blossoms, phantom tulips In the refugee camp, are you Sharbat Gula, liquor of flowers, or a number typed by a stranger? Your eyes teach how cold flint ignites a flare, how a father’s bones become an orphan’s roof History writes itself clear as cornea, your green glare—no whitewashing, no hype is stranger Pity the empire that failed to decipher the disdain in your eyes, the hard stare of war Pity the first world’s pity, the promise of friends who show up as every type of stranger Zeest, return to the arms of memory, the riddle of its minefields, velvet lullabies To the lilt of this land, its lyrical storms, its bells and bagpipes, you’re no stranger   From Ghazal Cosmopolitan (Jacar Press 2017), reprinted here with permission of the press and available for order here. Watch an interview of the author by editor Richard Krawiec. You can also listen to the author reading today’s and other poems and talking about her work here, here, and here.     Shadab Zeest Hashmi, author of Kohl and Chalk and Baker of Tarifa, is the recipient of the San Diego Book Award, the Nazim Hikmet Prize, and multiple Pushcart nominations. Her work has been included in the Seeds of Peace concerts with the award-winning Al-Andalus Ensemble, in the film Cruzando Lineas: Crossing Lines, and has been translated into Urdu and Spanish. She has taught in the MFA program at San Diego State University as a writer-in-residence and has presented her ghazals and qasidas (among other works) in Turkey, Spain, Pakistan, Mexico, and the UK. Her poetry and prose have been published in numerous journals and anthologies worldwide. She represents Pakistan on UniVerse: A United Nations of Poetry.   

Poet’s Note

The subject of the “Afghan Girl,” Steve McCurry’s famous photograph (published in the National Geographic and iconic of war and the suffering of refugees around the world), was, for a long time, a girl without a name. Decades later, when McCurry realized that he knew nothing about the subject whose photograph had made him famous, he went back to her refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, in search of her. He tracked her down with difficulty, as he did not even know her name, took new photographs of her as an adult, and published her new photographs and her life story. When I read the published details, I discovered that not only is she nearly the same age as myself, she lived in a refugee camp located only a few miles away from where I grew up in Peshawar during the time of the Soviet war. Sharbat Gula’s story brought back memories of that time, and I wrote this ghazal in response. It’s an atypical ghazal in that each couplet is not thematically or tonally autonomous—in the original Urdu, a ghazal such as this (with the same theme running through the entire poem) is called a “musalsal” or “continuous” ghazal.

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