detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Tuesday, June 25, 2002


: . On the limits of a global language:

Another ghazal by poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001), from this week's New Yorker and the upcoming book Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals:

Beyond English
--Agha Shahid Ali

No language is old--or young--beyond English.
So what of a common tongue beyond English?

I know some words for war, all of them sharp,
but the sharpest one is jung--beyond English!

If you wish to know of a king who loved his slave,
you must learn of legends, often-sung, beyond English.

Baghdad is sacked and its citizens must watch
prisoners (now in miniatures) hung beyond English.

Go all the way through jungle from aleph to zenith
to see English, like monkeys, swung beyond English.

So never send to know for whom the bell tolled,
for across the earth it has rung beyond English.

If you want your drugs legal you must leave the States,
not just for hashish but one--bhung--beyond English.

Heartbroken, I tottered out 'into windless snow,'
snowflakes on my lips, silence stung beyond English.

When the phrase 'The Mother of all Battles' caught on,
the surprise was indeed not sprung beyond English.

Could a soul crawl away at last unshrivelled which
to its 'own fusing senses' had clung beyond English?

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