Where are your valiant warriors and your priests,
Where are your hunting parties and your feasts?
– Abolqasem Ferdowsi
Shahrukh, grandson of Tamburlaine who
rode in triumph through Persepolis, commissioned
a Shahnama, a Book of Kings. ‘Inscribe
in letters of gold the glories of my ancestors.
Thus let my story too be told.’
The scribes salaamed. Hunched, they wrote
again Ferdowsi’s legend
twisting incident to royal taste.
“Valliant Enemy, again I ask: unmask thyself,”
Sohrab called over their steeds’ neighing,
“for through my armour my blood scents
kinship. Vision me thy face before we war.”
“War holds no kinship,” Rustam replied. “Prepare
to die, Warrior.” Thus saying, he charged.
The battle on this day was short. Laid on golden dust
Sohrab said, “Enemy, you have slain me fairly.
I beg you one more favour: Unmask me.
Across my broken neck lies my father’s talisman
that he rained with kisses, then gave
my mother before my birth.
It’s him I’ve sought, and now cannot. Give
him this, I pray. His name is legend.” The hero
Rustam unmasked Sohrab; and found
his talisman.“ Ah, no, no, no, it is mine only son!”
he cried unto desert winds. “O, pity, God, this miserable
age! Had I but heeded my son’s tender words,
his act, most butcherly, this deadly quarrel that daily
doth beget death and sucks
the Heavens dry might have stopped.
Pardon me, God, I knew not what I did!”
Rustam crumbled like a shell remembering
the oceans course within its shored hollow.
Sorhab sighed. “Three days we fought, Father, for
me each was as Eternity’s Night into whose soft
arms I must now pass. Bemoan me to my Mother. Unto
her say I tried, and lost.”
“Was ever father so bemoaned his son? “ Rustam
asked. “I pity thee, Father, this I do, for in each and
all erroneous killing ’tis the same till Time’s End! Alas, I
who came like thunder promising rain, yare
I vanish like the empty wind.” Thus saying, Sohrab died.
Rustam kissed his son’s curls, raining
tears like milk on the still form. In anguish
Rustam blew his horn, drawing the firmament’s
light into its dark funnel. “I’ll bear thee hence, and let
them fight that will, for I have murdered
where I should not kill.” Rustam cried
and grew in legend as heroes must.
He forgot his son and the words he cried – as
heroes do. Dank Earth holds absence
in her grasp, chuckling at the victims of Life’s
battles. ‘Tis no pity, merely sour reality.
Thus is Shahrukh remembered — passed
into legend through dispersed art. For a warrior-king,
it’s a grave affront! In Washington, Cairo, London,
L.A. his scattered folios shimmer in museum light.
Priya, blind poet, chuckles as she grubs in memory’s
files. She’s a bookworm, wormwood, deadwood. A run-
down cinema hall features her death as ‘Next Change’
for the late night slot. (It’s a silent B-movie with no stars.)
War Poems from Babylon and Persia
Fatima, mother of Sohrab, says:
I heard the news and rushed
to my son.
His arm lay on the street
the fingers curled.
His arm lay on the street
the fingers curled
that had touched my breast
that had beat his brothers
that had loved his wife
that had held his child.
I carried his arm
as a flagpole
through the wailing
streets though his blood dried on me
and my body dried to the bone.
I waved his arm.
I asked for my son.
The soldiers pushed
me back into the wall of wailing.
I clutched his arm
though his fingers had clenched
into a fist of stone.
on our streets that are littered with fists
and where mothers turn to stone,
our curses become wishes
that will release
into your unborn children.
Your foetuses will squirt out of wombs as pebbles —
that are not smooth, but pitted.
Salma, a pi-dog of Baghdad, says
Americans are kind.
They leave blood on the streets
for us to lick,
and morsels of human flesh
to charred clothing.
They return us to our ancestors:
Salma’s friend, pi-dog Imrana, says
You don’t hear and see so well
ever since the bomb went off in the neighborhood
dump where you had littered
one-eyed, one-eared, scar- faced Salma.
the scene of feasting is shifting
in tunnels long and deep.
And that the bombers talk in a language
we can understand, so to speak.
I’d trot there myself for the spread
if it weren’t that I lack
These poems appeared in Not Springtime Yet (2009).
Priya Sarukkai Chabria is a poet, writer and translator; she edits Poetry at Sangam. www.priyawriting.com
The poems above are part of our unfolding Citizens against War series of literature and art, initiated in the spirit of listening: to our poets, artists, fellow citizens, against war and warmongering.
Read more poems by Priya Sarukkai Chabria published in Guftugu here.