Chappal & Other Poems

by Waqas Naeem

Chappal

Every day I stand at the edge of life,
then rush in.
My chappal is my armour.

Together,
debts and mud and hurt we flee.
We walk around debris

of stifling lives and conversations,
routine.
And when we walk around

a rat’s carcass flattened on the road,
my chappal and I know
it’s a dirty game: survival.

Like rust, it stains and stops.
“Slow down,” it says.
“There is only soft grass ahead,

or nothing at all.”
We jump over puddles
from last night’s shattered spirits

and my awkward machinery shudders.
Invention has watched over me
from bearkskin days

to the age of leather
and plastic times,
yet

stuck to this armour’s soul
is the pain of the first human’s foot
cracked open on a jagged rock

The pain surfaces
again and again
a perennial enemy, new and the same,

like an alarm set to repeat
to remind me of my fragility
without my chappal.

 

The Sidewalk Song

There is no music in my fingers, I know.
These beats of mine are all out of line,
But the sidewalk sings with my feet in tow.

My movements are a dance in the afterglow
Of a walk into dusk, and when sounds resign
There is no music in my fingers, I know.

Through open air melodies, onward I go.
It’s out of tune, this sur of mine,
But the sidewalk sings with my feet in tow.

Harmony forms with pace, quick and slow,
And though my feet tap to a rhythm divine,
There is no music in my fingers, I know.

It’s about to end, this musical show.
The road is silent near the finish line,
But the sidewalk sings with my feet in tow.

I must help the singing, though.
I must reach my journey’s shrine.
There is no music in my fingers, I know,
But the sidewalk sings with my feet in tow.

 

Inner-city Loneliness

Tonight,
I want to stare at the world
and cry.
In this I find comfort and safety,
in equal measure,
as if tears were a home-cooked meal
served by an armed guard.
Is the sword the same as the shelter,
if they both protect?
What divides me
from the people on this bus
lives in my mind.
I see them in the aisle – the man
holding his child by the finger,
the old cleric inspecting his rosary,
the youths lost in their cell phones –
and I am not one of them.
I must be different.
What do they see
when they look back.
I can imagine it,
only if I stare at the world tonight
and cry.

 

Chappal & Other Poems

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