Four Poems by Sophia Pandeya

Featured artwork by Jen Lewis©


Jhoolay Lal Sifts the Calendar

Snake-tail hounds/no one is listening/the fishy saints come wrapped /in warm
newspaper/I flesh your fire/out of dirty water
Your lungs feather/ a cross of Icarus /bone candelabrum/elbows in moss/incontinent                                 ocean/*Zinda Pīr/tectonic between us
Totems are beached/unicorn of the sea/she climbs the helical/tusk,
taxonomy/grounding her teeth

*Pishtaco, *Surma/black-milk-maker/you have bombed/these eyes/ these eyes/ dune-
less sand/incessant Sisyphus/asphalt ash/fossilized lip/frozen eye-lash/ sentenced back
To hackle back/to sink again/in lead-locked think/Baba! Baba!/she runs to watch/her
stem syllables/the waters burn
Now only sheep/now only sleep/who can turn?/at the next gate/exit control/Medusa
waits/in uniform.


[Notes: * Jhoolay Lal or Darya Lal refers to the Ishta Dev (community God) of Sindhi people. Sindhi Hindus regard him to be an incarnation of  Varuna, the God of the Waters. He is also associated with Lal Shabaz Qalander, the patron saint of the river Indus, venerated by  Sufi muslims as Zinda Pir (Living Saint)

Pishtaco derives from the local Quechua-language word “pishtay” which mean to “behead, cut the throat, or cut into slices”. According to folklore, a pishtaco is an evil monster-like man —  often a white man — who seeks out unsuspecting Indians to kill them and abuse them in many ways. The legend dates back to the Spanish conquest of South America.

Surma is often described as being a large dog with a snake-tail who can turn people into stone (with a stare). Surma also means kill, or specifically a kill and the Finnish verb ‘surmata’, to kill or to slay, is derived from it.]




Come midnight it was time
to split the bill in two
equally worth
less halves

Come midnight it was time
to sift water from water
bark from bark

come midnight
it was time to embalm
in earth, a childish mark

that would say this
flying from rooftops. Adam-
ant fingering the sky while

the siblings slept
ever after, unhappily
dropping leaflets of squirms

open them like packets
of homeopathic stardust
the somnolent prescriptions

of mapmakers run crooked
courses, scissor blue night
ignoring whole paragraphs

of indigo bleeding across the red
letters of bodies now glassed
in picture frames glowing

at the growling intersections of then
& now, come midnight, when you dive
into that underbelly, do

well to bandage bangles
of concertina wires with throat’s
softest glaze, gauze only the loom

of shared memory could spin
but mind, those shards
cornered in the warp

of eyes, sharp
as razors waiting
looking to blind


The Names Of Birds

The names of birds begin
before the beginning
before form or shape or color steeping
under night’s black wing

Turns a cog ” ja ja re kagawa ja
consonant as claw of nomenclature, digging its way in
to savage silence, that primal dark crow
bars your sleep, a peace in pieces

Until the sky opens its white, sightless eye
and blind as love the Koel calls
the *kalaf of her kaaf softened beyond belief
still twists a dagger in, draws
a kiss of blood

At midday the unemployed
messenger pigeons, now doves mending
a dropped stitch in time
go knit & purl, knit & purl
grey gargoyles gurgling the world’s whirl
in Pollock sized dollops

In March, weary migrants
rumored to be mynahs, remit
a surfeit of bite sized songs
you feed for a long long time
fearing this light limbed joy
would collapse
under the weight of a name

Such deaths are all around you
evening is death, the day laid flat
with a thousand neon needles stabbing
electric shocks. As the corpse is
cooling into violet, they come in
the cleaning crew, so cruel
to call them vultures
the noble and humble that consume
what would poison

While you are reading
about a bird with limitless wings
the one the ancients named
Simurgh, flight and soul
twinned synonyms
repeat this

Until the bird
and it’s meaning
are merged as One.


[Notes: *” ja ja re kagawa ja” “Go, go, o (messenger) crow” a line from a thumri sung by the iconic Begum Akhtar
*kalaf: rice starch
*kaaf: the letter K in urdu]




(For Agha Shahid Ali)

Shahid, you said
never to write that
word “soul” so, how to explain
porous anatomy, that atomic stinging,
stringing of placeless name and pendulum

a minstrel wandering to possess
crux of displacement, to sing, to singe
to scribe the hollow full stop
of what has already shed, the skin
peeled, garnered into piles

dirt to earth, door of eye, slowly closing
how to say this? how
to aim the quiver of your humming?

In urdu, next of kin
to invisible, the hair that stands
arrow straight from end to end is “roam

perhaps that is where the rūh passes
like a wind in the spaces
between places

wearing only the sky
naked as a question




Sophia Pandeya is an Asian-American poet born in Karachi in 1964.  She writes in both Urdu and English and her poetry has been translated into Bengali as well.  She believes in a liminal poetry that straddles linguistic, cultural, temporal, geographical borders. Her writing has been anthologized worldwide, in both print and online journals including Poetry International Rotterdam, The Adirondack Review,The Daily O, BlazeVOX, Cactus Heart, Askew Poetry, Bank Heavy Press, Spilled Ink, Lantern Journal, Convergence ,  Antiphon Poetry UK, The Sunflower Collective, AntiSerious, The Ghazal Page etc. Peripheries is her critically acclaimed debut collection of poetry, published in September 2015 by Cyberhex Press. Links to published works and blog can be found at She tweets @sophiapandeya

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