Ratisena to Chandragupta Maurya
from ‘The Courtesans Reply’

While you sleep, I take
your white shirt
from the unpainted chair,
smoothe it with my hands
the way I smoothe
the tiredness from your body,
pressing my self against you.

Let me take your worries,
your secrets – those sharp
small stones you carry
with you always.

I know you have women half my age
– I see them in the street, swaying
like long grass, their saris
concealing slim legs
that circled your waist.

Are you my King
or the boy I met at the well
so many summers past?

I watch you sleeping.
My small bed cradles you,
my only child,
my only man.

[published in Modern Poetry in Translation, 2010 and The Courtesans Reply, 2012]


Mwanza, Malawi

I am Edith, I am eight.
I have two brothers, Jomo
and David. When we are hungry
my mother holds us close
with her body and her eyes.
Some nights I dream the same dream
– my mother covered in flies.

I jump out of the dream
leaving my mother alone
in the dark and the heat.
This happens again, again,
until a time the dream comes
and dream-me holds her eyes open,
puts one foot in front of the other
– goes like this to my mother
because of how much she hates flies –

and reaching her sees
a fine, black shawl covers her
with shiny, black beads
running over her like rain…
and my mother is sleeping
in the cool of its shade.

[published in The Financial Times, 2010 and TEN.]


My Mother’s Embroidered Apron

I am lost in my mother’s apron –
green parrots drip from the trees,
a peacock brushes past me
pulling its clockwork tail of children’s dreams.
I breathe in the heat of cinnamon,
the fug of yeast. My mother’s voice
fills me like smoke and her stories
lift me – I rise like a yellow balloon,
my feet, white ribbons trailing in the long, wet grass.

[published in PN Review, 2011]

You can read some more of my poems here:

Poetry International

Modern Poetry in Translation

One Response to Poems

  1. […] Shazea Quraishi is a Pakistani-born Canadian poet and translator whose poems have appeared in UK and US publications including The Financial Times, The Guardian, Modern Poetry in Translation and Poetry Review.  Her collection The Art of Scratching was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2015, and she is adapting her chapbook ‘The Courtesans Reply’ as a play. In 2015, she was the recipient of a Brooklease Grant from the Royal Society of Literature, and an Artists International Development Fund award. She teaches with The Poetry School and Translators in Schools, and is an artist in residence with Living Words.  Her website is here. […]

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