Shehr-e-Bekasaan: City of the Abandoned / Alizah Hashmi

the city is a shop, an elaborate trade

life is bargained

for fear, for grime, chaos

a sort of restitution

for forming a settlement, like adrift sediment

in a city so unsettled, a river so rash

my old home in Gulshan –modest

stuffy, standing the assorted tests:

of time, guns, burning detritus, dirty water,

strewn little surprises, like pleated bombs

an open sewer, a masked man, the no-go corners

the ravine where all surprises end

pretty, I think –

that Gulshan should mean garden

a silhouette of one, at-least –

we water it often,

with sweat, with blood

with timeless obstinacy –

a garden fecund in its refusal

to be barren

panic simmers, cools, falls

congeals into a frost

bites as we carry it –a coronary constriction,

an enduring distress.

a body that ails

but cannot perish.

what do you call it –

the capriciousness that becomes stability?

the comeuppance of the jilted schoolboy

not in class, again

the indisposed gruff of rickshaws,

hacking to a start

the scrape of sandals against hot asphalt

the blackened car windows –not legal

but to the owner, necessary

that block it all out

make it possible to go on

like the women that always make it to the other side

critical navigation through a wodge of traffic

at full tilt

like the rejected roses that seamlessly find another recipient

before they wilt  

the rainwater that festers and kills

but then dries

because it cannot drain

we go on

caricatures, warriors

the city is a chalice, poisoned

we drink even as we die

like flags of the stateless

half-mast, full spirit



Alizah Hashmi is based in Karachi, Pakistan. Her work has appeared in Entropy Magazine, Litbreak, The Young Adult Review Network (YARN), Five on the Fifth, the RIC Journal, The Aleph Review, Reclamation Magazine, and Academia Magazine. She was a finalist for the 2020 Curt Johnson Prose Award and was longlisted for the 2019 Zeenat Haroon Rashid Writing Prize. She likes cricket, telling stories, and never losing faith in the country she calls home.

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