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Dear Shahid,


I am writing to you from your far-off country. Far even from us who live here. Where you no longer are. Everyone carries his address in his pocket so that at least his body will reach home.

Rumors break on their way to us in the city. But word still reaches us from border towns: Men are forced to stand barefoot in snow waters all night. The women are alone inside. Soldiers smash radios and televisions. With bare hands they tear our houses to pieces.

You must have heard Rizwan was killed. Rizwan: Guardian of the Gates of Paradise. Only eighteen years old. Yesterday at Hideout Café (everyone there asks about you), a doctor — who had just that morning treated a 16-year-old boy released from an interrogation center — said: I want to ask the fortune-tellers: Did anything in his line of Fate reveal that the webs of his hands would be cut with a knife?

This letter, insh’Allah, will reach you, for my brother goes south tomorrow where he shall post it. Here one can’t even manage postage stamps. Today I went to the post office. Across the river. Bags and bags — hundreds of canvas bags — all of undelivered mail. By chance I looked down and there on the floor I saw this letter addressed to you. So I am enclosing it. I hope it’s from someone you are longing for news of.

Things here are as usual, though we always talk about you. Will you come soon? Waiting for you is like waiting for spring. We are waiting for the almond blossoms. And, if God wills, O! those days of peace when we all were in love and the rain was in our hands wherever we met.

Agha Shahid Ali was born in New Delhi on 4 February 1949. He grew up Muslim in Kashmir, and was later educated at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar, and University of Delhi. He earned a Ph.D. in English from Pennsylvania State University in 1984, and an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona in 1985. His volumes of poetry include Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals (W.W. Norton & Co., 2003), Rooms Are Never Finished (2001), The Country without a Post Office (1997), The Beloved Witness: Selected Poems (1992), A Nostalgist’s Map of America (1991), A Walk Through the Yellow Pages (1987), The Half-Inch Himalayas (1987), In Memory of Begum Akhtar and Other Poems (1979), and Bone Sculpture (1972).  He is also the author of T. S. Eliot as Editor (1986), translator of The Rebel’s Silhouette: Selected Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1992), and editor of Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English (2000). Agha Shahid Ali died on 8 December 2001. This poem was first published by The Prose Poem: An International Journal 5.1 (1996). See, also, Lydia Polgreen, “2 Killings Stoke Kashmiri Rage at Indian Force” (New York Times, 15 August 2009).

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