“Ghazal for Dida” by Karan Kapoor

Karan Kapoor


There is no harm, in times of darkness, to use god.
Light, love, is seized time and again, else we lose god.
The devil measured every pain he could draw from our bodies;
straightened his back, and asked: Now, who’s god?
He stood at your door—you averted your eyes.
O dying mother, with whom did you confuse god?
On certain nights she screams curses at Krishna.
There are times, O despair, when we cannot choose god.
You blew on the first morsel, then offered each idol. Now 
your unfaithful tongue burns each time you abuse god.
Best to let the past remain in the past—she
weighs the beads of her rosary to seduce god.
Take me into your arms, O omniscient one! 
With endless prayers all night, unafraid she cues god.
The world is full of binaries. God is singular. 
Who divides better than morning news? God.
On each of our arms, the black moment we are born,
the words suffering, sorrow, and death tattoos god.
As a child I was told there’s one answer to all:
chaos, caste, guilt, grief, grace, a bruise—god.
At the end, we forget more than we remember.
It counts we are blessed—who cares by whose god?
My mother sits by the moon, sister a candle—
I know I am not alone who interviews god.
His crimes forgiven for centuries, enough now!
We’ll execute—fetch the hangman, bring a noose—god.
Your name is her offering, Karan. The day she dies
you will lose your name, and you will lose god.

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022


Karan Kapoor: “Dida (my paternal grandmother) was sick for six months before she died, three years ago. In that time, I moved between weeping, massaging her feet, and writing. That death inspires poetry is not new. Whether as journalistic expression, ritual purgation, or literary experience. When I began working on my collection of poems for Dida, I found myself shifting through these three states. I wrote to survive her death. The strict form of the ghazal allowed me to channel (and give structure to) the chaos that severe inexplicable illnesses bring to a house. I started with 21 couplets and brought them down to 14. While traditionally a song of longing and love, and at times political advocacy—the ghazal—mastered by Agha Shahid Ali in English—is a form that defies what we think is possible in poetry today. At once dramatic, self-aware, subtle, musical, excessively emotional, and then quietly metaphysical—it is emblematic of poetic community. Death, too, does not happen alone. Especially in India—it brings together families, beliefs, doubts. Nor is writing truly a solitary act. All poems remain unfinished if unread.” (web)

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