For Christopher Merrill

Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land—
There is no sugar in the promised land.

Why must the bars turn neon now when, Love,   
I’m already drunk in your capitalist land?

If home is found on both sides of the globe,
home is of course here—and always a missed land.

The hour’s come to redeem the pledge (not wholly?)   
in Fate’s "Long years ago we made a tryst" land.

Clearly, these men were here only to destroy,   
a mosque now the dust of a prejudiced land.

Will the Doomsayers die, bitten with envy,   
when springtime returns to our dismissed land?

The prisons fill with the cries of children.
Then how do you subsist, how do you persist, Land?

“Is my love nothing for I’ve borne no children?”
I’m with you, Sappho, in that anarchist land.

A hurricane is born when the wings flutter ...   
Where will the butterfly, on my wrist, land?

You made me wait for one who wasn’t even there   
though summer had finished in that tourist land.

Do the blind hold temples close to their eyes   
when we steal their gods for our atheist land?

Abandoned bride, Night throws down her jewels   
so Rome—on our descent—is an amethyst land.

At the moment the heart turns terrorist,
are Shahid’s arms broken, O Promised Land?

Note to Poetry Out Loud students: This poem begins with an epigraph that must be recited. Omitting the epigraph will affect your accuracy score.
  • Agha Shahid Ali, “Land” from Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals. Originally published in Poetry (July 2001). Copyright © 2001 by Agha Shahid Ali. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  • Source: Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 2001)

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