The first time I heard a ghazal was twelve years ago at a small reading at PEN America’s office in New York when they put together an intimate event for an Iranian poet. At that time, I was working at PEN and was madly typing away on my computer while the reading was going on in PEN’s open office space (cubicles to one side of shelving with an open event space on the other), and occasionally hearing a word here and there. At the end, I grabbed the folder with the poems of the poet whose name I have since forgotten…only remembering hearing that she was a poet in exile and then reading the ghazal on a xeroxed page. I have lost that xeroxed ghazal despite searching through many loose pages of xeroxed poems which are always flitting about in my messy place.
Her ghazal was a traditional love poem, but Americans have used many different topics to intervweave with the ghazal form. I was particularly struck by the two radically different ghazals by Forrest Gander and Peter Cole.
Forrest Gander’s ghazal:
Moon and Page Ghazal
Before the neutrinos could interact with matter, they went out.
His voice hardened. The foreplay went out.
Through a pocked sky he dragged her by the rope in her mouth.
She didn’t like it. When he opened the door, her stray went out.
To wound him no deeper than to awaken him, she thought.
Under eaves, the buzzing of mud daubers in their piped clay went out.
That could not be his meaning, on two legs walking backward.
But whoever heard her pray went out.
Only a fly responds to a moving hand in thirty milliseconds.
Biting the hole in her lip as each day went out.
They met at the footsteps of the altar, in a groined chamber of salt.
Forever, she said — flash — smiling as the bridesmaid went out.
And Peter Cole’s:
The Ghazal of What Hurt
Pain froze you, for years — and fear — leaving scars.
But now, as though miraculously, it seems here you are
walking easily across the ground, and into town
as though you were floating on air, which in part you are,
or riding a wave of what feels like the world’s good will –
though helped along by something foreign and older than you are
and yet much younger too, inside you, and so palpable
an X-ray, you’re sure, would show it, within the body you are,
not all that far beneath the skin, and even in
some bones. Making you wonder: Are you what you are –
with all that isn’t actually you having flowed
through and settled in you, and made you what you are?
The pain was never replaced, nor was it quite erased.
It’s memory now — so you know just how lucky you are.
You didn’t always. Were you then? And where’s the fear?
Inside your words, like an engine? The car you are?!
Face it, friend, you most exist when you’re driven
away, or on — by forms and forces greater than you are.