So, we just moved to Chicagoland, and in the process, a number of items long-buried in the basement emerged to daylight. One of these is my zippered vinyl folder, with a big “Tagamet” on its cover – one of the many gifts the doctors in my family received from medical sales representatives. My uncle, Dr. Merajuddin of Gujranwala, gave me this. I used this folder to store a huge array of poems that I’d written from the age of about 10 onward. I think I tapered off writing poetry, generally, in my mid-twenties, and only produced occasionally after that. I became conscious of contemporary poetic technique. That’s what killed my impulse. I realized that my doggerel-style sounded ridiculous, foreign, old-fashioned, too obvious.
Still, this collection brings back poignant, deeply-felt memories. Some of these poems cause me to hang my head and laugh in utter shame, for their anti-feminist, obscurantist sentiment. Svend vows that he will some day share the worst of the worst with an audience. Over my dead body …
Instead, today, I share with you a poem I wrote years and years ago. It is not much by way of emotion or quality, but as I read it to Svend, my voice caught, and the tears started falling quickly and I was unable to continue, for utter loss and grief. As you read it, you will say, what the hell, why would you be so overcome? But I really was, and my guilt, sadness, aloneness came rushing back to me as I went through to the third stanza. For fellow-Pakistanis, you will recognize a familiar dog-phobia, and the fear of stray dogs. For poets at heart, you will recognize the guilt, the change of heart, the sadness that come from realizing one’s error in fearing and hating the other.
Apology to a dog
My cat sat outside, huddled up,
but sheltered,-as the rain did pour;
I glanced ahead, and saw a large, black
mangy dog beside the door.
What if, when I leave, this fierce dog
should tear my cat apart?
I did not think: I shooed him off,
my deed dictated by my heart.
Broad-shouldered, he turned ’round, and like
a tired wolf, got up again,
and trotted loosely, wearily,
out, out, into the pouring rain.
A large, black, wolf-like dog he was,
but tired, soaked, and hurt, and sore,
that from the rain, I realized,
had taken shelter by my door.
As, heavy at the heart, I sit,
my greatest joy would be to see,
from here, a big, black dog returning, –
weary, sullen, wet, to me.