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Veiled Threats 1999-current
with the poems of Agha Shahid Ali

Rooms of wall size paintings in ink on pleated illusion (tulle curtains),
14 x 22 x 28 each


Agha Shahid Ali and Izhar Patkin started their collaboration on “Veiled Threats” in 1999.
In this project, each of Patkin’s veil rooms corresponds to one of Shahid’s poems.


Table of Contents:
1. The Veil Suite
2. About the structure of "The Veiled Suite" poem by Agha Shaid Ali
3. Violins
4. Mahmoud Darwish
5. Evening
6. Faiz Ahmed Faiz
7. The Dead Are Here
8. A Conversation with Ariana Reines
9. You Tell Us What To Do

Agha Shahid Ali (आगा शाहीद अली) (1949 - 2001) was an English poet of Kashmiri ancestry and upbringing. His poetry collections include The Half-Inch Himalayas, A Nostalgist's Map of America, The Country Without a Post Office, Rooms Are Never Finished (finalist for the National Book Award, 2001), Call Me Ishmael Tonight, a collection of English ghazals. Ali was also a translator of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (The Rebel's Silhouette; Selected Poems) and editor (Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English). He was widely credited for helping to popularize the ghazal form in America.

listen to Agha Shahid Ali's interview with Jacki Lyden on NPR's All Things Considered, 7-28-2001
 
 
The Veil Suite 2007
after "The Veiled Suite," a poem by Agha Shahid Ali

ink on pleated illusion (tulle curtains),
14 x 22 x 28
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The Veiled Suite by Agha Shahid Ali
 
Faceless, he could represent only two alternatives:
that he was either a conscious agent of harm,
or that he would unknowingly harm me anyway.
*

"No mortal has or will ever lift my veil,"
he says. Strokes my arm. What poison is his eyes?
Make me now your veil then see if you can veil
yourself from me. Where is he not from? Which vale
of tears? Am I awake? There is little sense
of whether I am his-or he is my-veil.
For, after the night is fog, who'll unveil
whom? Either he knows he is one with the night
or is unaware he's an agent of night –
nothing else is possible (who is whose veil?)
when he, random assassin sent by the sea,
is putting, and with no sense of urgency,
 
the final touches on – whose last fantasy?
Where isn't he from? He's brought sky from Vail,
Colorado, and the Ganges from Varanasi
in a clay urn (his heart measures like the sea).
He's brought the desert too. It's deep in his eyes
when he says: "I want you to be mine alone, see."
What hasn't he planned? For music Debussy,
then a song from New Orleans in the Crescent's
time nearing Penn Station. What's of the essence?
Not time, not time, no, not time. I can foresee
he will lead each night from night into night.
I ask, "Can you promise me this much tonight:


that when you divide what remains of this night
it will be like a prophet once parted the sea.
But no one must die! For however this night
has been summoned, I, your mortal every night,
must become your veil… and I must lift your veil
when just one thing's left to consider: the night."
There's just one thing left to consider, the night
in which we will be left to realize
when the ice begins to break down in his eyes.
And the prophecies filming his gaze tonight?
What will be revealed? What stunning color sense
kept hidden so long in his eyes, what essence
 
of longing? He can kill me without license.
The moon for its ivory scours the night.
Sent by the fog, he nearly empties in me all sense
of his gaze, till either he or I have lost all sense;
midnight polishes the remains of a galaxy.
What is left to polish now? What fluorescence?
Is there some hope of making a world of sense?
When I meet his gaze, there is again the veil.
On the farthest side of prophecy, I still need a veil.
Perhaps our only chance will be to ignite
the doom he sometimes veils in his eyes,
and the universe lost, like I am in his eyes.


I wait for him to look straight into my eyes.
This is our only chance for magnificence.
If he, carefully, upon this hour of ice,
will let us almost completely crystallize,
tell me, who but I could chill his dreaming night.
Where he turns, what will not appear but my eyes?
Wherever he looks, the sky is only eyes.
Whatever news he has, it is of the sea.
But now is the time when I am to realize
our night cannot end completely with his eyes.
Something has happened now for me to prevail,
no matter what remains of this final night.
 
What arrangements haven’t you made for tonight!
I am to hand you a knife from behind the veil
now rising quickly from your just-lit incense.
I'm still alive, alive to learn from your eyes
that I am become your veil and I am all you see.

For Patricia O’Neill

 

 

*From a dream in which I said this to myself (Spring 2000)

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Violins 2006
after "Violins," a poem by Mahmoud Darwish,
translated from Arabic to English by Agha Shahid Ali


ink on pleated illusion (tulle curtains),
14 x 22 x 28

 

 


Mahmoud Darwish, Leading Palestinian Poet, Is Dead at 67
New York Times: August 10, 2008

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Violins by Mahmmoud Darwish/Agha Shahid Ali

Violins weep with gypsies going  to Andalusia
Violins weep for Arabs leaving Andalusia

Violins weep for a time that does not return
Violins weep for a homeland that might return

Violins set fire to the woods of that deep deep darkness
Violins tear the horizon and smell my blood in the vein

Violins weep with gypsies going to Andalusia
Violins weep for Arabs leaving Andalusia

Violins are horses on a phantom string of moaning water
Violins are the ebb and flow of a field of wild lilacs

Violins are monsters touched by the nail of a woman now
  distant
Violins are an army, building and filling a tomb made of marble
  and Nahawund

Violins are the anarchy of hearts driven mad by the wind in a
  dancer’s foot
Violins are flocks of birds fleeing a torn banner

Violins are complaints of silk creased in the lover’s night
Violins are the distant sound of wine falling on a previous desire

Violins follow me everywhere in vengeance
Violins seek me out to kill me wherever they find me

Violins weep for Arabs leaving Andalusia
Violins weep with gypsies going to Andalusia

 

Nahawund: One of the classical Arabic musical modes.


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Evening 2008-2009
after "Evening," a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz,
translated from Urdu to English by Agha Shahid Ali

ink on pleated illusion (tulle curtains),
14 x 22 x 28

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Evening

The trees are dark ruins of temples,
Seeking excuses to crumble
Since who knows when—
Their roofs are cracked,
Their doors lost to ancient winds.
And the sky is a priest,
Saffron marks on his forehead,
Ashes smeared on his body.
He sits by the temples, worn to a shadow, not looking up

Some terrible magician, hidden behind curtains,
Has hypnotized Time
So this evening is a net
In which the twilight is caught.
Now darkness will never come—
And there will never be morning.

The sky waits for this spell to be broken,
For History to tear itself from this net,
For Silence to break its chains
So that a symphony of conch shells
May wake up the statues
And a beautiful, dark goddess,
Her anklets echoing, may unveil herself.

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izhar patkin evening veil painting evening izhar patkin

evening izhar patkin
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The Dead Are Here 2009
This Poem is the 13th chapter from Shahid's elegy "From Another Desert." The Arabic love story of Qais and Laila is used. Qais is called Majnoon (literally "possessed" or "mad") because he sacrificed everything for Love.

ink on pleated illusion (tulle curtains),
14 x 22 x 28

The Dead Are Here
(chapter 13)


The dead are here. Listen to survivors
search for screams to place on the corpses’ mouths.

The self is lost, erased at this moment.
So reveal, quickly, a secret to me:

When, at last, that hour comes, who will lead me
through the catacombs to the swordsman’s arms?

Will it be a long-lost friend, speaking of her,
of her hands digging out turquoise perfumes

from the air’s mines? Will he bring a message
from her eyes, so far away now, gazing

at a dream in which the ghosts of prisoners
are shaking the bars till iron softens

into a song ~everywhere the shadows
of my voice, everywhere a smokeless fire?

Tonight the air is many envelopes
again. Tell her to open them at once

and find hurried notes about my longing
for wings. Tell her to speak, when that hour comes,

simply of the sky. Friend, speak of the sky
when that hour comes. Speak, simply of the air.

izhar patkin evening veil painting izhar patkin evening veil painting
izhar patkin evening veil painting evening izhar patkin

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izhar patkin evening veil painting izhar patkin evening veil painting izhar patkin evening veil painting izhar patkin evening veil painting

 

You Tell Us What to Do 2010
after "You Tell Us What to Do," a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz,
translated from Urdu to English by Agha Shahid Ali

ink on pleated illusion (tulle curtains),
14 x 22 x 28

izhar patkin you tell us what to do veil painting

You Tell Us What to Do

When we launched life
on the river of grief,
how vital were our arms, how ruby our blood.
With a few strokes, it seemed,
we would cross all pain,
we would soon disembark.
That didn't happen.
In the stillness of each wave we found invisible currents.
The boatmen, too, were unskilled,
their oars untested.
Investigate the matter as you will,
blame whomever, as much as you want,
but the river hasn't changed,
the raft is still the same.
Now you suggest what's to be done,
you tell us how to come ashore.

When we saw the wounds of our country
appear on our skins,
we believed each word of the healers.
Besides, we remembered so many cures,
it seemed at any moment
all troubles would end, each wound heal completely.
That didn't happen: our ailments
were so many, so deep within us
that all diagnoses proved false, each remedy useless.
Now do whatever, follow each clue,
accuse whomever, as much as you will,
our bodies are still the same,
our wounds still open.
Now tell us what we should do,
you tell us how to heal these wounds.

 
izhar patkin you tell us what to do veil painting
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