Shirin Bismillah

Editor’s Introduction

Shirin Bismallah’s poems are disarming. The language enfolds, protects, we might say, the consciousness inside the poem, the one who not only is vulnerable, but who also desires, and who desires with all the rights of any being born into consciousness. 

These poems portray the clash of desires, and explore the movement between desire as right and desire as infringement. As such, much occurs in these poems between the play of action and seeing: between the flat, painting-like way in which we see the world as object, and what happens when that fabric is ripped through, as the one seen takes on not just vision, but life and will:

...a shadow of his wait and

 a ruddied forehead of her doubt. “Zooni, look!

The parrot is dead, you left the cage naked on a

crisp night!   "(Untouched by Blood")

Two dimensions against three, the parrot as perhaps that false full object, who, without will to speech, is without dimension.

The feeling of desire that runs steadily through “Retracing Love Story” (a retelling of the Persian love-story Shirin and Khusro) is made tense through the dynamics of vision: the lovers encounter each other with “locked eyes” but shortly after

                                the gaze was lost and


                                could make aware?

as if the very seat of awareness was held in the absorption that the shared gaze effects, as if for the rights of desire to be exercised as such, the gaze between those who want must be maintained,  

Likewise, in "Mother" we see this disparity triangulated, the gaze unreciprocated from both lost baby and distant husband, the elegant and assertive verticality of the poem crossed by its last lines: as if in the act of "falling down" it is the language that holds up, the language that persists in its right to desire despite what it says.  

It is this disparity between the seen and the actor that creates the “said”” of these poems, flickering between depth and surface, between will and vision.
                                                                     – Noam Scheindlin






Nursing her fresh loss

                    silently –




walking in a pair of

                bijoux –


Hashmi allows nostalgia

to taint the colour of her



under an oxide ground

of yellow grimness.


Slippers flopping in

                time –


bellowing unwept marriage

               blues –


rhythmical and regular;

graceless copious notes.


Fragrance of lobaan

                       unfurling –


new beads of moisture




surviving dreams of the day –


are falling down…

              are falling down.



                                                            (For Asmat Fatima)





Untouched by Blood


Worms in she, jostling, holding the reigns of

her final performance. Only eighteen – mooning

about at night amidst the confusion of soaps

and bottles of lavender water! “Zooni, always


remember what I say -- never acquaint with

men after acts, let them scorn or even laugh!” It

is time, time to row ourselves. Let us pay

our condolences to her lost, submerged stardust


and continue. A night of wonder, following

another –  that pushed his existence in the

‘city of suspense’. Yellow ceilings exposing a

roasted appearance, a shadow of his wait and


 a ruddied forehead of her doubt. “Zooni, look!

The parrot is dead, you left the cage naked on a

crisp night! The railing, but, gives a cool feeling -

raw scarlet flesh, just like cool limbs of Eileen.


“Come, perfect timing for a kiss”. Excited in his

insanity, already full of three women’s indelicacy, he

wants her to resume, to rinse out the basins – poisoned

with musk. A boy, meanwhile, spools a few coiled


tapes on a garbage heap. His father, a pastry cook,

has given the mother a whole week of love and

and blows. “Boy, are you lonesome tonight? Will

you miss home tonight?  Boy, he must sleep on it tonight.


Pretentious days – timing and embracing such

fast forward times – ruthless words then return gifts –

“What about the promises you made to Zooni? (It was

all moonshine he talked!). Forgotten in usual time.


A traditional dead rose rests for both; a few withered

creepers, silent ants and lurking pigeons. The

‘city of suspense’ was a make-believe-world. “I have

no memory of Zooni, Sir! Now let us rewind to zero”.


Retracing Love-Story


             The rocks, the sculptured caves, the valleys green, 
             Sent back his dying cry—‘Alas! Shireen!’ 

                                                     -Nizami Ganjavi


(Tidings of Shirin are arched over

                                   my sleep),

I had a habit to dream of the unseen –

                                   Anushirvan pristine,

who spoke of her. Before long, we locked eyes halfway

                                  in Armenia,

a soft river of haze; but wherefore the

                                   gaze was lost and


                                   could make aware?


Your washed flowing hair were coiled –

                                  sending the stream

to heaven through moon-shine and membrane.

                                  How did you negotiate

with the angels after leaping a vagrant heart?

                                  Why would I let others peek

at you – the half-orb fringes on your cheeks –

                                  for there was a dry madness


                                  my quixotic longings at large.


Oblivious, there was an uncanny feeling in you –

                                   (you were being watched)

the air was rent with crushed colors of ecstasy

                                   but time, travelled, was moving

too fast. My ground was covered with split fantasies –

                                   something was living in you

but dying in me, maundering through the dark.


There were many stones and water,

There was honey skin with no water,

There was an aching body – bereft of slaughter.


Farhad too thought of you, trembling in exile;

                                        Behistun was too far,

beyond to march in solitary light– there were

                                    pale stones and

no water. A messenger witnessed his own task

                                    of carving stairs

out of a grey rock. He was on a mountaintop

                          when given an invalid flash–

before receiving

                                       letters of compassion.

                                       Confessions as they are –

                                       prick me with your curses. But

you were desired steadily; (so the universe knows)


Let me rehearse our sorrow to the world –

a mélange of bitter-sweet truths –

and repent for my deeds in secret,

buried together in one grave.       



Feature Image: Shirin and Khosrow          

Shirin Bismillah is a young academic from New Delhi, India, currently pursuing her M.phil in English Literature and a diploma in English Literature Translation from Jamia Millia Islamia. After completing her Master's from University of Delhi. Her works have been published, or are forthcoming in Transcendence Magazine, eFiction India, The Periphery, Indian Literature, Moon Pigeon Press, Kitaab, Indian Review and Kashmir Lit.