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Shadab Zeest Hashmi

Urdu: Silk Road Qasida


Qasida of Cat Dreaming the Forbidden Mountain


Daybreak, a mist-filled coin purse

from the Caucasus

Or koh e qaaf— mountain named after the letter

tied to the throat’s sharp rock of death,

rouged floor, golden fleece

hung on the arm of the Greek god of War, gray breath

lifting from a choke-hold between a horned dev

and a Persian wrestler, princess dressed as a horseman

held in the dreaming cranium of a cat on a rich

cushion beside the half-read Alif laila


Qasida of Ordu by the Black Sea


How the Black Sea is an iridescent dish

the soldiers know from clutching

each brother by the echo of his gleaming song

Nothing is lost on the edge of myth

Camp to camp, ear to ear, tongue unknotting

on sailor-songs in the direction of saffron and science:

O how she makes a fire, how he washes her scarf

In the world’s oldest cherry orchards, they hum

to the oldest military march, raising a drum

against untimely burial, they feed the anthem to woodworms


Qasida of Mulberry Sisters


Silk semantic from a mile of thread

each cocoon makes: you are prized company

under an unknown grove, sisters, plaiting language

from three continents— On patches of Camel thorn,

hard meadow grass, a sofa, Turkish for chair,

from suffa or wool in Arabic, mirror-work

of court Urdu, camp Urdu, pass on the purple-stained saucer

where a word once met a word, pass on the newborn,

spring anemones, asphodels, the book

we write of thread known for strength and shine

Qasida of the Listening Loom


Sixteen hundred knots per square inch

Silk on silk carpet weavers keep their windows

to the street open for the footfall of pilgrims,

tamasha tambourines, salty pastry- coal- and-tea-

hawkers, schoolchildren, snow partridge and chakor—

the loom must soak in every waking and sleeping syllable

for each restless knot to settle as the stew cooks all night

the scent of cloves sewn into the newly-weds’ pillow

travels to a far continent where their carpets hang

where no one has heard of a place called Kashmir



Qasida of Urdu Bazaar


Between the mosque and the Moonlight

Square or Chandni Chowk is the market where my language

landed a name. I drank the map as milk,


more than one hundred years after the market charred

on the watch of golden poets

Black lace trailing on volcanic ash—ancestral thunder

where the Black sea meets the Jamuna

I turn my back to the mulch of master

sing language is its own empire



The qasida is a poetic form that comes from the ancient Arabic oral tradition and became part of many literary traditions including that of Urdu. It was originally a journey poem, typically 50 or more lines, and included various prescribed themes which were framed in distinct segments or "movements."

My qasida cycle is a journey poem (an adaptation of the original form) that celebrates the various roots of my native language Urdu, which is a hybrid of Turkic dialects, Arabic, Sanskrit, and Persian— cultures along the Silk Route. The poem begins in Koh e Qaf or the Caucasus mountains (a place that is mythologized in Alif Laila or the “Arabian Nights”), and ends in Delhi's Urdu Bazaar, the multilingual district of Imperial Delhi where Urdu evolved into a language. 


Shadab Zeest Hashmi, winner of the the San Diego Book Award and the Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize multiple times, and her work has been translated into Spanish and Urdu. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Poetry International, The Cortland Review, Vallum, Nimrod, Atlanta Review, The Bitter Oleander, RHINO, Journal of Postcolonial Writings, Spillway, The Adirondack Review, and Drunken Boat among other journals and anthologies. She represents Pakistan on the website UniVerse: A United Nations of Poetry, and has taught in the MFA program at San Diego State University as a writer-in-residence. She is a guest columnist for 3 Quarks Daily. Kohl and Chalk is her latest book. 

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