Sheikha A. (Western Voices 2023)

Bio: Sheikha A. is from Pakistan and United Arab Emirates. Her works appear in a variety of literary venues, both print and online, including several anthologies by different presses. Her poetry has been translated into Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Polish, Italian, Albanian and Persian. More about her can be found at



It has become important to speak in metaphors.

Grim nights vacant of logic rip through

red cloths of complacency. Whether

your slightly disoriented eyes are the colour

of compressed feuds, or the deep rich

creamy brown that dresses your flesh,

whatever the purpose of existence remains,

it is in burying – tirelessly, with every molecule

of urgency that retains a moment from

becoming too real; burying the voids

in endlessness of deserts; burying confessions

in combinations of words. You tell me

it is hard for you to speak the one language

common between us. So, I dig desperately.

I tell you stories of capture and rescue,

hoping you'd be oblivious to how stolen

the themes are. These shards of soot

I bite into wisp and clog my teeth. Old women

from their resting graves have begun

visiting my dreams, dressed in jewels

the colour of thick scents in black haze.

I wonder how possible it is to hex a name

and you gaze at me with both concern

and fear. But, I keep pushing my language

as you watch blackbirds starting to flock

at the window of your intact sanity. Bury

in manageable sacksful burning contrails

of your past, and make sure they are all

not in the same place, so when corvids

arrive to claim the loot, you'll know what

was snatched up instantly. This will

help you, I say, as your eyes watch the smoke

gather at my back, rising up like a man

on stilts. We'll be like lovers in a book;

you know the smell of coal as I know

the depths of soil. Nothing between us

will not be survived.




after Zuleika: An Oriental Song by Clark Ashton Smith


Once on a ledge extending like a substitute

balcony, a sparrow lost its flight to the whip

of an eagle's dodged grasp. It fell like cotton

on concrete, melodic chirp converting

to soundless gape. I watched the eagle

clap against the breeze's natural route

pushing the air to cut a way for its mighty

wings, my eyes never leaving its penetrating

glare on the round warmth unmoving

save for its craning beak to which I placed

a cup of water, surmising sufficiency

in leaving it to fend for itself, that it would

know to lift its brokenness over the lip

and offer me its last-breath blessing for

tending. How its life-draining eyes looked

towards my ignorance, so large beneath

their tiny lids. How my eyes watched

its motionless struggle, so hollow in

their ascetic heed. My face comes from

the parlours of a thousand nights bathed

in silky moon-waters: flawless, untempered

mark of beauty. How your eyes bloom

like honey-centred cloves, so devout

on cliffs of wild-flowers. Every night is

a bird in a manger: rapine-nester. I have

built many nests from last rays of the sun,

tender and eager throngs.




Zojaj (v)


We keep the lights off for moths

that throng at the beckon of twilight –

at incidence of holiness – the masjids

are locked. Down where muezzins kneel

prayer mats gleam the imprints of feet;

in another calm the qibla is a black stone

under omniscience – nothing is temporary,

everything is permanent – in another world.

We draw a halqa around our feet, call it

hisaar – protective barrier – the obstruct

of construct – and we anoint it light

in another manifestation. The safeenah

is clear in sight with garlands of rayhanas

and the hand that places a piece of misri

in our mouths points us in the direction

we were always meant to be before

now – before falling – our wings vibrant

under wide canopies of bejewelled trees.


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