Editor's Note

In the theater of memory, images come forward and retreat in mythic order. Khansa Kubra’s stark and compressed poems provide just enough detail for a reader to stage an entire drama within their minds. For instance, the economy of ‘Unforgivable. / The act of barking at a warplane.’ condenses simultaneously, the domesticity and vastness of global conflict.

These seemingly simple poems are charged with indelible memory, distilled through the effective use of particularity. I was reminded of T.S. Eliot’s idea of the objective correlative that explores ‘a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion’. Kubra’s poems exhibit this quality of carefully selecting the images that evoke the desired emotion in the reader. She sets up surprising motifs in each poem (‘a fish head with hyacinths, hooks in my bloody pink lip’), that then carry through to a striking end.

— Mandakini Pachauri
The Bombay Literary Magazine

All that is left is storytelling

.     —after a line by Fady Joudah

At the end of each evening is a story
.                                     of the boys next door
.                                     of their mothers with bad hearts
.                                     of the man always worried about his pigeons.

At the end of each evening we count bones in the village
.                                     of the boys next door
.                                     of their mothers with bad hearts
.                                     of the man always worried about his pigeons.

Each bone a memory
.                                     of ourselves
.                                     of the people next door
.                                     and those next door to them, till it’s the end of the road.

Outside a green metal man cranes his neck:
.                                     a woe, a spit, a death, the dead. That’s the end of the road.

Something watches
and you want to watch too

instead, you stay to remember
.                                     the curses, the woes, the spit, a death, the dead.

This year they are here again, the soldiers.
The spring air, rusty, pierces our eyes, leaves
dust on the leaves and our tongues.

The things we keep hidden escape in our sighs.

My grandmother, arthritic, with swollen feet, sits near the window
.                                     an old bird about to drop
.                                     to its death wanting
.                                     to cry for one last time.

She does this every year: says she’ll go.

But she’s at the window again
.                                     because the boys next door haven’t returned
.                                     their mothers with bad hearts haven’t returned
.                                     and the man with the pigeons hasn’t returned.

She hears sounds at night
like young bones being crushed.
I think it’ll kill her.
I also think it’s what keeps her alive.

There’s a hole in the wall through which I watch
.                                     the mulberry tree in our yard
.                                     perhaps a hundred years old or more
.                                     perhaps fifty, like the men who sit beneath it.
My grandfather is one of them—
each a living proof of things
that happened in the shadows here.

There is no life. Only a faint chanting of fate.

But fate, they know,
does not invite the ghosts
that scratch their windows at night.

The men have fallen behind now
like crisp centipedes that lie still
on a hot wall after a human touch.

They cling to the trees.
They grow old.
There is no life.

Only hands stained with mulberries, a price for not having died earlier.


The year is 1999.

My father’s black dog chokes on a bone
while warplanes fly overhead.

The act of barking at a warplane.

The dog writhing in a field of golden stalks
spits everywhere on the space left open to attack.

My father rushes towards the dog, plunges his hand down its throat, gets the bone.

The planes above form a smoky collar, my father buries the bone.
The year ends, the dog dies.

My father wears a floral collar, draws a circle in the air
and starts digging for a bone.

This happens every year.

Fish Head

Fish heads make delicious soup.

I dream I’m a fish head
neon hyacinths sprout in my eyes
tickle my head, take root.

I’m a fish head with hyacinth,
hooks in my bloody pink lip.

Fish heads present no malice, they make delicious soup.

Men play a thousand saxophones
a show on a devil’s green palm.

Men feast on fish.

I am a fish head: an unexpected gift.
I’m tossed out of the soup.

Out of my fish head dream
still a hook in my pink lip.
Bloody pink lip.
Bloody dream.


Here in our land, quinces are memories.
An abundance of them means an abundance of ways to feast on a quince.

My grandmother, for example,
fed each of my sisters a different thing—
quince jam for one, a pickle for another and so on.

I always preferred the fried ones, the oil crackling
and my grandma’s cracked fingertips covered in powdered chilies.

Each of us fed on a different memory, on similar slouchy afternoons.
Quinces taste different to us.

The tree however, stiff in its pose, remains unchanged.

Only those who sit beneath it can know
the stories of the land it grows on.

One day you may find stray letters underneath it,
or if you dig deep enough, a corpse might emerge.

You will not know which one to offer a proper burial to.

Perhaps you will want to keep one
but then you’ll stand at the edge
of the tree’s shade, sniffing the air
and know that they both have to go.


Image credits:

Copyright source unknown. This road sign is to be found on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway. Most highway signs in Indian endeavour to make you a better human being. In other words, they’re endearingly earnest. This one seems inclined to irony.


Khansa Kubra

Khansa is a nascent poet from Kashmir. She graduated in English literature from the University of Delhi. She is currently living and writing in Kashmir, where it’s cold most of the time, and she tries to write about it.

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