Baraka

baraka“This fiery, compassionate collection presents a complex, richly textured exploration of Pakistan, its layered past and tragic present. Sharpe does not cloak her poems in feminist rhetoric; she presents instead a nuanced, compassionate vision that yearns for Pakistan’s return to its profound lost beauty.  She is a careful observer, reveling in the richness of juxtaposition and has a well-tuned ear for the subtler rhythms that accent Pakistan’s brutal streets…..”  Kirkus.

“Working the intersection between cultures and genders, Pat Sharpe goes deeper than most of us can.  She slips behind the veils, the screens, the walls, the gates, that keep much of Pakistani life out of view and mysterious.  She refuses to ignore the sorrows, but her kaleidoscope is rich and beautiful.  Baraka lures us in, and then gives us a hard slap of reality.”   Michael Hamilton Morgan. Lost History: the Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers and Artists

Baraka could have been written by a Pakistani….who loved this land and grieved for it.  In these poems Karachi comes alive with a heightened awareness of its natural flow, of its smells, sounds, color and light, and she renders them palpable, all these aspects of the city where we lived, that we love and have quarreled with, of the land that awakens forebodings and a secret prayer.  Let us hope she gives us more.  More poems.” Fahmida RiazFour Walls and a Black Veil

The Baraka poems grew out of two-intensely experienced sojourns in Pakistan, nearly four years in all.  During the first, when I was a Fulbright professor of American literature at Punjab University in Lahore, a very patriarchal form of Islam was already on the rise and my female students were worried.  Their grandmothers, having joined their menfolk in processions and other protests  against colonialism, had earned the right to live as modern women: the right to education, the right to work outside the home, the right to appear in public without the veil.  But a backlash had begun.  The young women in my classes were being pressured to curtail their freedoms and content themselves with secluded lives.   Twenty years later, when I was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi as Branch Public Affairs Officer, life had become even more challenging for women.  Meanwhile, ethnic and sectarian violence had become commonplace in Karachi, and Lahore wasn’t untouched.  Life in Pakistan wasn’t easy for men either.  And so the Baraka poems were born.  There’s pain here, but transcendence, too.  (FYI an earlier edition, without a glossary or the “Forward” by Fahmida Riaz was published by Finishing Line Press as The Indus Valley Suite.) Please sample a few lines from this collection:

HONOR

purity’s bitter
and hard

like chalk
in the mouth

purity’s
cold

a pitcher
of ice

it shatters
into sharpness

it slashes
like a knife


BARAKA

Pir Mango, having lice, combed
out the nits, which dropped into a spring,
itself a wonder in the desert. The eggs
hatched out, into crocodiles; the pond
acquired fame for washing away
the ills of the skin. Rash-free, itch-free,
the cured offer goats to feast the crocs,
while others pray for other boons.

Purchasing rose petals to strew
on the kabar, you pray a moment
for solace, security, a husband, a son,
then give yourself to songs of God
in all of this—and all of us.
Bowing out, you buy some sweets,
blessed, for those you left at home,
pay the man who guards the shoes,
and claim your air-conditioned car
or a patch to shade to wait for the bus.

The shrine, stingily endowed, needs paint.
Pools for reptiles and supplicants
are stagnant, murky, algae-slimed.
Karachi encroaches, like an oil spill,
and fallout from a cement plant coats
everything khaki, a recipe for Hell
that doesn’t quite work. Whatever it was
that happened here, still happens. Here.
MURREE SUNSET

I’m passing by, just as the sun
drops down and enters the one

window in the sooty back wall
of a darkening tea stall,

turns opalescent a bubbled flask
with assorted tumblers of cheap glass

and sets an old teapot to glowing white
as a marbled dome on full moon night.

Perfect! I think and aim
my Canon. A cat, scruffy and lame,

springs up. I make a quick
adjustment, but click

too late. The cat jumps down.
But worse: the owner shuffles around,

his tattered vest and back
landing smack

between my camera’s eye
and a still life I’d die

for, good luck
run dreadfully amok.

And yet, moving about the deepening shadows,
his shirt, dingy and frayed, also knows

the strange radiance of common
things at sundown.


from TWISTER

Oh yes!
They set me
spinning,
those dervish feelings,
drove me into frenzies
I took for life transcended....

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