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Dilruba Ahmed




By no sleight of your hand: I see I’ve lived on air before.   

My heart plummets, a trap-door that was only air before.


Who has not fought love’s battles in open air before

never saw your face or took a nom de guerre before.


You arrived in flesh—earthly, a human disguised.

Never so foolishly had I muttered prayers before. 


The point’s moot if you know my thoughts and I yours

so let skeptics deny we were an unsplit pair before.


Why bridle this love, while wars wear on outside?

Among ruins, my pretense never so threadbare before.


Such love, if your right hand fails, I’ll write a score

for your left hand alone, harmonies heard nowhere before.


If the world heard a call, a minaret with no muezzin,

could love overpower what we lived as nightmare before?


Beloved, even pebbles dropped into wells create ripples, 

reflecting light where we saw only despair before.







My father is hosting the final picnic.

            He rolls a melon back and forth

on the slate table to steady it


and slice, each piece bleeding

            onto a white plate.  The coals turn

gray but still flicker and burn, with raw


meat slung on top of the grill, oozing

            blood red to clear.  In the river

bordering  the grove, a lone man paddles


his arms, stomach pressed

            to a blue surfboard. 

Black and white ripples


radiate from him while boats knock

            against the pier.  The children

gather their Frisbees from grass,


their volleyballs and racquets, appearing

            and disappearing

in bright shirts like confetti. 


Their voices rise and fall.  It is late.

            The sun shines, but not

for much longer. The golden hour


has begun.  For a moment

            the moss-covered trees glow

lime green, frozen in their looming


heights.  My father: white shirt,

            gray pants, silver wristwatch,

glasses.   He always cut the melon. 


The plates are ready, the food

            is hot, the watermelon cold

and seedless. And our lives,


for a moment, are an untouched

            meal: perishable, and delicious,

one we’ve barely begun to taste.






Now, only in past tense—

            who he was, what he liked, how he


sounded. How, even from the hospital bed

            he always asked, first,


how we’d been.

            He does not offer, anymore,


much advice, except

            the snippets I hear


when I catch myself erring

            slowly, repeatedly, humanly


again.  He’s no longer

            sick.  He’s alive


in my thoughts, at the height

            of health, bright


as a recovered coin.

            My new father suffers


no more.  I take care

            to tell the boys


God knows and fulfills

            his every need and that now


pain ends, and the worry,

            and the treatment.


I tell them.  His diagnosis

            gone, disappeared


with him, as bodiless as air.

            His illness no longer


hovers, an uninvited guest

            at our family table, one


we had just learned how to serve:

            uncomfortably, distractedly,


mournfully.  I don’t assume

            now, that I will hear


his raucous laugh

            when I enter


my parent’s yellow home.

            Still, I can conjure him at will. 


My new father visits regularly

            only in my mother’s sleep.


She scolds, Are you going to sink

            underwater & leave me again?


He promises no.  He will not leave

            again.  Instead, he returns


nightly, dropping

            onto our ruffled lawn


by spaceship, copter, or jet.

            He reassures my mother:


Your time hasn’t come.

            I won’t take you with me yet.

-from Bring Now the Angels (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020) selected by Fall 2020 Guest Editor Angela Narcisco Torres. “How to Speak of Him” originally appeared in Smartish Pace. “Ghazal [before]” originally appeared in Smartish Pace. “The Feast” originally appeared in AGNI.

Dilruba Ahmed is the author of Bring Now the Angels (Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020).  Her debut book of poetry, Dhaka Dust (Graywolf Press), won the Bakeless Prize.  Her poems have appeared in Blackbird, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, and Smartish Pace.  Her poems have also been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2019 (Scribner), Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books), Literature: The Human Experience (Bedford/St. Martin’s), Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry (University of Arkansas), and elsewhere.  Ahmed is the recipient of The Florida Review’s Editors’ Award, a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Prize, and the Katharine Bakeless Nason Fellowship in Poetry awarded by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She holds degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers. 

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