Translations & Conversations
translated by NAVEED ALAM


Come, let’s do the luddi
Grab that string and let high your kite
My string in my lover’s hand, I’m his kite
You’ll regret this moment when you find yourself in a pit
Says Hussein, the Lord’s fakir, the whole world drowns

  A Punjabi dance in which men and women participate.
  A play on the word khaddi, literally a hole but also the space a weaver places his feet in while working on the warp of the cloth.

Kite String

I stood at the door of a cubicle sized room
rented by the hour in a northern sauna.
A man on all fours with a pierced anus.
His partner held the ends of a thin rope 
run through the piercing. He tugged the rope
like one jerks high a kite. These men didn’t know 
across the ocean teens lace the kite strings 
in crushed glass, centuries old technique
of garroting the opponent’s kite, huge
wagers at stake during the kite fights.
So many kids fall off the rooftops 
chasing the winner’s free falling spoils. 
Strange plays, Master, and we aren’t even 
aware if we’re the actors or the audience.


Go wherever dwells my sweetheart
Go there and say it’s time for my humble offering
For your sake I’ll sacrifice myself
Once I find you I’ll be refreshed
Painful nights, sorrowful days
Death’s become an obligation
I undid my braids, wrapped them around the neck 
I turned a wandering woman
The cities and wilderness I roam
Out of shame I don’t cry out loud 
Says Hussein, the Lord’s fakir, 
I lie awake day and night


Go wherever dwells the sweetheart
Go there and ask: Is it time?

Go tell him: Nights are a pain, 
the days full of anxiety.
Death’s become obligatory.

I turn gypsy, put on
the heavy brass anklets.
My braids undone, my hair
wrapped around the neck 
I walk into the flickering mirages.
He’ll dust off my ashes, 
embrace and refresh me.

I shan’t let out a cry lest you be defamed.
Says Hussein, the worthless devotee,
I lie awake night and day.


The month of July 
stretches farther the distance.
July, go tell him, the month 

of the long awaited groom 
who must bring along 
red to rouse my roses.

July, he ought to know, feeds
my anxieties and I immerse myself
in strangers’ flesh. I hire 

poets, carpenters, cameramen.
They set up the stage, they enact
the plays that perturb the pious.

I’m censored, accused of 
promiscuous conspiracies.
Go tell him, I’ve repudiated

the mosque and the wine house.
The shapely cheeks of a male ass
no longer the domes of my devotion.

Won’t you go tell him, it’s late
too late for dying, too early
the lure of susurrus groves.


Let’s live, next to the lover let’s live 
Litany of sins, heaps of mockery, let’s bear it all 
living close to the lover. If they sever off the head 
let’s not betray a single whisper, only share 
with those whose words are our medicine
If there’s sandalwood in my own courtyard
why should I go out seeking any fragrance
Says Hussein, the Lord’s fakir, better 
finish yourself off while you’re still alive

Sandalwood in Courtyard

Just so happens that he doesn’t live too far 
from the lover. Hardly fifteen minutes drive. 
So happens that he’s eighteen years 
younger than the lover. Father fetish, they say 
among other things. They keep gossiping, grinning
as he rushes up the four flights of stairs, stands 
outside apartment 8 with half a dozen roses.
He hesitates to knock, not because he’s afraid
or embarrassed. A little over confident, expects
the lover to know instinctually who’s at the door.
Disappointed, he turns towards the potted plumeria:
ivory white petals, mostly fresh, a few withered,
quite fragrant compared to the commercial roses 
in his hand. He throws away the bouquet
down from the fifth floor hallway overlooking
a shaded cemetery. He turns the door handle.


May the passion of mendicants flourish n’ prosper, 
may it never grow old. Don’t ever forget God, O woman, 
you may forget all, but God not worth forgetting
Gold and beauty, short living. Love never decays
You laugh and play with the rest then why act so formal
with the lover? Two pairs of eyes met and acquiesced
then what’s the need of a go-between? Love settled
in your courtyard, how could you have any worry?
I swear by my mother, I swear by my father:
love the best devotion. The youth you’re so proud of
will be reduced to ashes. Says Hussein, the Lord’s fakir,
if you accept your mortality then what’s the excuse?


Poets think the silken murmurs of the moon
Musicians say the irresistible castanets of the crimson breeze
I believe it’s merely the sudden chill in the air that makes 
men horny and fill up the sleazy gay bars (no sleazier though 
than any shore where the waves find an ephemeral embrace)

At one such crowded place our eyes met and we acquiesced
Without exchanging a word we turned around and kissed 
Let’s not waste any time here he said taking me by the hand
We hastened, we rushed, perhaps we should’ve been patient 
like the preservationists restoring the bullet scarred mosaics

Does it matter if we took a cab home or stargazed 
or stayed up all night cheeks pressed together listening 
to the arias of thunder—narrative can only go so far
What matters is that both of us are connoisseurs of farewell,
middle aged juveniles unprepared for mortal sobrieties

We didn’t exchange any numbers or emails
but let’s have faith, my one night lover: we shall have 
streets paved with October copper, breeze billowed curtains
We shall have—why not?—our swans slicing open
the frosted solitude of the approaching November

We shall never meet again that’s for sure but may we defy 
the sadness of wind ruffled pigeons in autumn windows 
May we dare to be tender with the fragile winter light


Why you strut the land, fellow?
You eat good, you dress well, 
you fatten the lamb for death
A few feet of burial ground 
is all the property you need
Why occupy and accumulate
the acres you can never own?
Says Hussein, the Lord’s fakir,
in the end dust is the destiny


Sure, property I can do without, Master,
do let me afford some Michelin star restaurants.
Let me try out some nice fitting jeans, fine cotton kurtas.

I won’t strut, I’m not the kind, nor do I pretend to be
meek. Call it my incorrigible joie de vivre. I’d rather 
be a well fed, decorated ram like the one 

kids merrily lead to the festival of sacrifice.

SHAH HUSSEIN (1539-1599), a weaver by profession and a mystic by vocation, commands great reverence as a poet-saint in Punjab where his 436th urs (anniversary) known as mela chiraga’an (festival of lamps) was most recently celebrated in late March, 2014. Shah Hussein is commonly known as Madhu Lal Hussein, for he took the name of his lover, Madhu Lal, a Hindu boy buried next to him at his shrine. Both graves are always laden with heaps of fresh rose garlands and petals brought as offering by the visitors to this popular shrine in Baghbanpura, Lahore, near the Shalimar Gardens from the Mughal era. 

NAVEED ALAM was born in Jhelum, Pakistan, and after high school left for the United States where he received his MFA in Creative writing and taught English at various colleges. His first collection of poems, A Queen of No Ordinary Realms, won the Spokane Poetry Prize, and his works have been published in a number of literary journals and magazines including the Prairie Schooner, American Poetry Journal, Poetry International, International Poetry Review, Cimmaron Review, and the Canadian Dimension. He currently lives in Lahore, Pakistan. 

The Adirondack Review