Paradox Poems

Sumaya Teli 


Inspired by untold stories of the old city
and by people who wear their lives
with the ease of a shawl thrown over a shoulder,

Srinagar is a fragrance,
with an ebbing heartbeat of hope: Close your eyes
can you smell the seasons?

Vivacious top notes of
white narcissus, almond blossom, fennel;
melt to a heart of plucked plums and lotus roots,

pink pashmina, saffron and sweet water chestnut
simmers down to a base
of dark walnut wood bark.

Have you ever smelt snowfall?
It is in the warmth of coal embers, burnt corn on the cob,
In smoked Chinar leaves and the unmistakable brewing of salty soda tea

Men and women in
woolen pherans
moths on a backdrop of ink drawn trees.

And somewhere in this city is my home
Evening heralds the start of a marriage ceremony.
Come.  Enter. You are invited:

My grandmother throws cheap toffees,
boiled sweets and new pennies
in the same way she scatters seeds for her hens

tossed expertly for children
who scream with delight
as they catch each treat.

The house bedecked like a bride twinkles.
My sister and I have to make the meinz
to pestle the powdered henna into a paste
This is for later…

Deep into the night women sing old wedding ballads
to the beat of a drum

Henna paints fire on the hands of a winter bride
while the moon sparkles like a new penny on the palm of night


Srinagar is a forgotten fragrance,
inspiration lost its way here years ago.

Close your eyes can you smell the seasons?
vivacious top notes of white narcissus,
and freshly dug earth,
the smell of that waiting embrace
from the final mother that eats us
and keeps us all

embers of chinar leaves
smoke from burnt homes
see the snapshot of a woman –
sitting on the the rubble of her home?

you were not there, but that day
even the screams of her children
were singed by fire

have you ever smelt blood in snowfall?

Curfew. they line them up outside
old, young, men and women
children, babies, all wrapped in woolen pherans
moths on a backdrop of inkdrawn trees

and somewhere in this city is my home
which they are searching, breaking,
tearing, burning, burning.

Evening heralds the start of a funeral:
Come, join the janazah.
You are invited, we are all invited

A mother never stores tears to shed
on her son’s death. Who else will
wish their own death before yours?

the house, windows smashed, grins
a toothless half smile
my sister and I serve tea

people drink: life carries on living.
Later, we will all take our role
in that dress rehersal for death
which we call sleep

deep into the night
dark clouds are gathering
as if to weep together will lessen the pain

do they think this rain will wash the blood from their hands?
No! Even the Moon will bear witness to it all.

Sumaya Teli is a British Kashmiri, residing in the USA, she is the founder and co-author of and can be contacted at ([email protected])

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