Ghazal

The ghazal is a Persian/Urdu form made of couplets that generally have end rhyme and repeat the last word at the close of the couplet. Many poets encountered the form through Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz. American poet Aga Shahid Ali brought the Urdu form to contemporary American poetry at the turn of the 21st Century.  Here’s one from the November issue of Poetry Magazine.

Ghazal for Becoming Your Own Country

After Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s “Self Stones Country” photographs

Know what the almost-gone dandelion knows. Piece by piece
The body prayers home. Its whole head a veil, a wind-blown bride.
When all the mothers gone, frame the portraits. Wood spoon over
Boiling pot, test the milk on your own wrist. You soil, sand, and mud grown bride.
If you miss your stop. Or lose love. If even the medicine hurts too.
Even when your side-eye, your face stank, still, your heart moans bride.
Fuck the fog back off the mirror. Trust the road in your name. Ride
Your moon hide through the pitch black. Gotsta be your own bride.
Burn the honey. Write the letters. What address could hold you?
Nectar arms, nectar hands. Old tire sound against the gravel. Baritone bride.
Goodest grief is an orchard you know. But you have not been killed
Once. Angel, put that on everything. Self. Country. Stone. Bride.

Canadian poets Phyllis Webb and John Thompson explored the form, and wrote to and against it. Webb’s ghazals and anti-ghazals as she calls them, are tender, intimate poems that can accommodate the minor and major notes of daily observational poems. Thompson’s took on brutal, angry dimensions. Rob Winger has written on the particular relationship of Canadian poets to the ghazal form. You can read it here with particular attention to John Thompson.

Here’s one of my own ghazals, from my book Teeth Marks. You can also find in the Canadian textbook In Fine Form by Kate Braid & Sandy Shreve. Here are a few ghazals.

where you are planted

he’s as high as a georgia pine
, my father’d say, half laughing. southern trees
as measure, metaphor. highways lined with kudzu-covered southern trees.
fuchsia, lavender, white, light pink, purple : crape myrtle bouquets burst
open on sturdy branches of skin-smooth bark : my favorite southern trees.
one hundred degrees in the shade : we settle into still pools of humidity, moss-
dark, beneath live oaks. southern heat makes us grateful for southern trees.
the maples in our front yard flew in spring on helicopter wings. in fall, we
splashed in colored leaves, but never sought sap from these southern trees.
frankly, my dear, that’s a magnolia, i tell her, fingering the deep green, nearly
plastic leaves, amazed how little a northern girl knows about southern trees.
i’ve never forgotten the charred bitter fruit of holiday’s poplars, nor will i :
it’s part of what makes me evie :  i grew up in the shadow of southern trees

 

Tonight the Sky is my Begging Bowl 

While I savor woodstove-scented sleep,
you move in a forest of brick and glass: sleepless.

Your eyes droop, dreaming the half-point of grades
and coffee at the end of the picket line. Sleepy.

I dress in flannel, stalk blackberries for birds,
canes flattened from a winter storm as we slept.

I embrace everything, even the slither of midnight,
but without you, time is too wide, I can not sleep.

Clatter of dragon paw—the old year retreats, tail between
her legs. This thumping new one will not sleep.

We are simply, where we are. Me, alone
in flannel, you on a subway depraved of sleep.

Tonight the sky is my begging bowl: wing tip,
wood thrush I open palms, heart, enclave of sleep.

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