Hibah Shabkhez | Three Short Works

Spring Blooms Over The Exile’s Grave

Spades with cheerful rakings pierce and shave
The frosted clay clod by clod. Like cherries
Exploding twixt teeth, like lemons hands squeeze
Dry spitting out seeds, they stain with grim mirth
A still white lump laid in the cold embrace
Of a foreign land. Exile whittled, hollowed
Life out, till she became an it, with eyes
That dared and courted death as a prize.

But the land which laced bread with heartache, bowed
Inch by inch this once-proud head, shows grace:
Spring blooms over the exile’s quiet grave
With the tenderness of ripe mulberries,
And sends word to her home with each soft breeze,
‘Peace; your daughter rests tranquil in this earth.’


One and twenty lingering tastes embrace
Each fresh name of a fruit. From strawberry
Hope runs through fragola, çilek and fraise,
Threading the gossamer that will carry
You out of the abyss.

The wall’s rough grain stirs under your fingers;
Zigzagging in the scent of frying eggs,
Memory sharp as stubbed toes lingers
In heady, acrid aftertastes, and begs
Passing fruit for language.

And Fruit will answer, for it has been there
Too. It remembers, this fragaria,
The home you dare not. In your exile’s bare
Soil, it plants hope-threads, murmuring, ‘Larla,
Peace; we shall return yet.’

The madness started with the Children Three-Houses-Down screaming “Yayy! Nathiagali!” in all innocence on the very first day of the summer holidays. Mr Two-Houses-Up announced promptly that his family was off to Naran within the fortnight, whereupon Mrs One-House-Down was known to have said that cheap overcrowded resorts accorded ill with her style, and she would take her children to PC Bhurban. Kiran pricked her thumb nearly to the bone when she heard that, and had to pull away the hand-embroidered-shirt-from-Multan she was darning very quickly to avoid staining it. If they asked her, it would be like – like when Mrs One-House-Down had casually turned over the collar tag on the hand-embroidered-shirt-from-Multan, the tag that said ‘Made In China’, and turned away smiling. But the Family Across-The-Road announced they were going all the way to Rahim Yar Khan, and no one even asked her what she thought of them going south to the desert in mid-June. Kiran watched the postman stop at every house but hers, just as he did every morning, saw him grimace sympathetically at her window, and found her desire to hurl a saucepan at him mingled for the first time with an inexplicable and infuriating gratitude.

The next morning, Kiran slept soundly till nine, but the neighbourhood had no rest at all after daybreak. In the front lawn of the most unlikely house of them all stood two large black valises, labeled in bold white letters: LHE → CDG. Lahore to Paris.

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