Naomi Shihab Nye

The Endless Indian Nights

How the same Shah who commanded thousands
to build the Taj Mahal could later be jailed for life
by a single son is something to think about
during the endless Indian nights.
In the stump of candle,
a crooked wick keeps sinking.
I press my lips to your back.
All night the tiresome anklet of charms and voices:
no, no, no, three times, the way they say in Asia,
or the Goan priest who wrote a farewell letter in couplets.
He even spoke in rhyme and could rhyme with Ghandi.
On the table our tea was deep, and true.

Everywhere camels plunge to their knees
and pretend there are no people.
A villager asked me, “What is your caste?”
“We don’t have castes in America.” He stared harder.
“Then how do you know who you are?”

Tonight I would laugh less,
I would place my hands together and ask
how he sleeps in this populous dark.
On the boulevard from earth to moon
our wings are dragging.
The babies of Calcutta, bearers with empty baskets,
sorrowful fringe of the robe—how many times
do we put you on? It was dark, then it was dark again.
It was dark so long we thought the day was lost.
I lay thinking of Afghanistan, men who live in caves
eating potatoes till their faces grow longer,
their eyes blacken and will not close.
Someone said the world has never forgotten anyone
better. And I vowed to remember them
though what good it would do, who knows.

At dawn a cook wept in the kitchen,
once he cooked for Maharajah and now he cooked for pigs.
I thanked him so many times for his omelette.
He wanted letters from America saying
he was a good cook. I promised,
the morning unwrapped its shining turban
and flung it wide, so we dreamed we were done
with sleeping. It reached a new momentum,
like a professor who keeps writing onto the wall
after he fills the blackboard and the students,
startled, pay better attention. What is this?
Because now that there are no borders
they could imagine him continuing onto their desks,
their innocent skin.

spoken = Ayelet Firstenberg