Seeking, by Moniza Alvi

17 September 2014

Another poem from Moniza Alvi’s At the Time of Partition – see ‘Must We Go?’ and ‘Stepping’ below. This one focuses on Athar, Alvi’s “father’s brother, / the young man with the damaged mind // who vanished / simply went missing” during the migration from India to Pakistan.

//

In God’s name, where was he?
Amma, can we go and look?

*

Amma
climbed ridges, trailed a foot
along a valley floor,
laid the flat of her hand on a plain.

Her mind’s eye was a torch
to beam through

the intricate darkness of a tailor’s workshop,

the hanging, reeking bloodiness of a butcher’s stall,

the forgotten corners of a woodcarver’s yard.

____She’d glimpse his face

from a great height,
from alongside, from underneath,

find him squatting
at the back of a textile factory.

In an instant, he’d be gone.

*

India was behind her
as if somehow she’d outpaced it.

She had to turn around to see it
unroll,

or to watch it rise up
like a single mountain.

With a shake of her head she’d try
to clear a street,

sweep away the barriers
to seeing where he was.

*

Could anyone look as long and as hard as she did?

Not me with my writing eye,

not in any crush of a bazaar, or wayside inn,
cranny, cleft in a rock.

Not with any muscle of the imagination.

//

Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, the example of ‘seeking’ most often transmitted into my radio consciousness was Lisa Stansfield’s ‘All Around the World‘. Now, in an era of connectivity and public profiles of all sorts, the effort that Stansfield claims she’ll put into her global search seems remarkable. It’s possible to avoid somebody, but harder to disappear completely. Or so is the case for many of us. Events this week in the Mediterranean, just the latest in an ongoing series, give examples of disappearance when trying to get from one place to another. Alvi’s final line shows how hard it is to understand this sort of loss.

[Read in At the Time of Partition, published by Bloodaxe Books.]

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One Response to “Seeking, by Moniza Alvi”


  1. […] poem from Moniza Alvi’s At the Time of Partition, directly following on from ‘Seeking’, below – providing an internal complement to that poem’s portrayal of external […]


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