The Mud Fort of Khiva – by Priya Sarukkai Chabria

by TBLM

Crenulated by ancient toil this
wall of sand stands against
the sky and stretches. At night it
turns homely: restaurants light
up its alleys. We get drunk on
its shrunken size and our
escape from the guide’s
intoning of its history.
Especially

the slave chambers, ferret
holes in which they were
shoved, stacked and sold –
on which Khiva thrived
for centuries. The cages
aren’t empty but thick
with pleading eyes
poached by time. Their
flayed lives tinge our
wine with tannin
however much we pretend
otherwise. Their fingers lick
the contours of my dreams
with screams in unknown
tongues that are my own.

Above the ramparts
dawn’s silk looms-
turning in duration
beyond right and wrong.
Breaking into my room – a
shakuhachi’s notes. There
he stands at the massive
gate, the tourist, his back to
me, playing for the slaves. I
listen from my balcony.

He turns. We bow to
each other and depart
for distant lands.

(excerpted from Calling Over Water, 2019, Poetrywala)

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