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By Agha Shahid Ali

Those intervals

between the day’s

five calls to prayer

the women of the house

pulling thick threads

through vegetables

rosaries of ginger

of rustling peppers

in autumn drying for winter

in those intervals this rug

part of Grandma’s dowry


so the Devil’s shadow

would not desecrate

Mecca scarlet-woven

with minarets of gold

but then the sunset

call to prayer

the servants

their straw mats unrolled

praying or in the garden

in summer on grass

the children wanting

the prayers to end

the women’s foreheads

touching Abraham’s

silk stone of sacrifice

black stone descended

from Heaven

the pilgrims in white circling it

this year my grandmother

also a pilgrim

in Mecca she weeps

as the stone is unveiled

she weeps holding on

to the pillars

(for Begum Zafar Ali)


Agha Shahid Ali, “Prayer Rug” from The Half-Inch Himalayas. Copyright © 1987 by Agha Shahid Ali. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press,

Source: The Half-Inch Himalayas (Wesleyan University Press, 1987)

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Poet Bio

Agha Shahid Ali
Agha Shahid Ali was born in New Delhi and grew up in Kashmir before becoming a United States citizen. The themes of exile, nostalgia for lost or ruined landscapes, and political conflict inform many of his poems. He was a superb practitioner of the ghazal, a medieval Persian lyric form of couplets loosely linked by rhymes or repeated words. See More By This Poet

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