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By Agha Shahid Ali

My ancestor, a man

of Himalayan snow,

came to Kashmir from Samarkand,

carrying a bag

of whale bones:

heirlooms from sea funerals.

His skeleton

carved from glaciers, his breath


he froze women in his embrace.

His wife thawed into stony water,

her old age a clear


This heirloom,

his skeleton under my skin, passed

from son to grandson,

generations of snowmen on my back.

They tap every year on my window,

their voices hushed to ice.

No, they won’t let me out of winter,

and I’ve promised myself,

even if I’m the last snowman,

that I’ll ride into spring

on their melting shoulders.

Agha Shahid Ali, “The Snowmen” from The Half-Inch Himalayas © 1987 by Agha Shahid Ali and reprinted by 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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