from THE DIVA OF JALSAGHAR

Steffen Horstmann

Sunlight streaming through a Persian fresco
Sheens the winged figure of Begum Akhtar. 

The song of the lark coaxes hymns
Poised in the throat of Begum Akhtar. 

The mistlethrush mimics the cadence
Of the voice of Begum Akhtar. 

The nightingale emulates the melody
Of the voice of Begum Akhtar. 

Song of the quail & Indian sparrow.
Song of the fantail & blue drango. 

Song of the ibis & flamingo.
Song of the starling & white hoopoe. 

Air is scriptured by the syllabic flight
Of the voice of Begum Akhtar. 

Regard the white sunlight in the pause
Between dusk & darkness in Darwar. 

Regard the silken flames of rose petals
Swirling in the gardens of Zadar. 

Regard the relics banded with scripture
In the sacred tombs of Sahar. 

Regard the nomad & pilgrim seeking
The blessing of Begum Akhtar. 

She sang in Urdu & Kashmiri.
She sang in Tamil & Santali. 

She sang in Arabic & Sindhi.
She sang in Hindi & Nepali. 

Zephyrs shimmer with ragas
Honed by the voice of Begum Akhtar. 

— As flames of torches gasp
In the webbed catacombs of Thakkar. 

— As luminous sciroccos
Engulf the mountains of Khattar. 

— As steam fragrant with myrrh
Streams from rock pools in Sarwar. 

— As the aroma of lavender wafts
Through stony gorges in Tahar. 

— As autumn frost glazes
The alpine meadows of Shandar. 

— As glistening rain laves
The apricot groves of Bhandar. 

— As peach blossoms shower temples
In Ujjain & Ghazanfar. 

She sang in Persian & Punjabi.
She sang in Kannada & Konkani. 

She sang in Oriya & Marathi.
She sang in Shina & Sivandi. 

Regard the gold of the leaves
Lifted by the breath of Begum Akhtar. 

Regard the prayers of wheels
Read by the winds of Anjar. 

Regard the silver hummingbird,
The holy herald of Anshar. 

Regard the shaman dancing
On the plateau of Jhajjar. 

Regard the hush of snow
Upon winter roses in Dhar.

 

THE SHALLOWS

Steffen Horstmann

Winds spun by circular currents whip through the shallows,
Diverting a child’s paper ship through the shallows. 

Schools of minnows swerve between the shadows of herons,
Forming bands of silver light that slip through the shallows. 

Skulls are scattered across stretches of rippling water —
Incandescent within moonlight's strip through the shallows. 

In flocks eagles soar into the crevices of thunderheads
As sibyls emerge from whirlwinds that whip through the shallows. 

The Sioux dreamt salmon as comets migrating lucent rivers
Of starlight, briefly seen as they slip through the shallows. 

Light glinting through tamaracks forms a net where thrashing
Pike shine like steel knives that rip through the shallows.

 

[CIRCE ONCE BATHED IN A COVE BETWEEN THE SANDY CLIFFS]

Steffen Horstmann

Circe once bathed in a cove between the sandy cliffs,
Now a rock-strewn waste jackals rove between the sandy cliffs. 

Desiccated seaweed veils gold wheels from chariots
Odysseus drove between the sandy cliffs. 

Sibyls cross a bridge of lightning that streams
From the sceptre of Jove, between the sandy cliffs. 

Maps encrypted in cave murals guide wayfarers through
Barren passes demons rove between the sandy cliffs. 

Vines swarm the gate of an untended garden, voices linger
In gusts scented with moly & clove between the sandy cliffs. 

A gargoyle sentry is perched in a ridge's cleft
Like an Angel sheltered in an alcove, between the sandy cliffs. 

Windy abode of falcons that plucked snakes from the sea,
Shrieked as they circled and dove between the sandy cliffs. 

Nereids & dolphins leap in streaming fog — an ocean
Tapestry moonlight wove between the sandy cliffs. 

Gales harrow the abandoned temple of Circe, whose shadow
Shimmers on the rock walls of a cove between the sandy cliffs.

 

[IN A TEMPLE HALL CLEOPATRA'S CRYSTAL CASKET SHINES]

Steffen Horstmann

In a temple hall Cleopatra’s crystal casket shines.
The lavender mist that shrouds a budding violet shines. 

Beads of rain absorbing moonlight become diamonds.
Frosted dew on the feathery palms of Gilgit shines. 

The night is a steed Abbas rides to the Euphrates — 
Where Gula’s spectre, oarsman of The Prophet, shines. 

A scribe’s deft stylus glides on parchment,
Where by firelight his credo in Sanskrit shines. 

Mystical Rose, Our Lady of the Candelabra —
Crowned with a halo in a stained glass portrait, shines. 

An emerald sky becomes the night’s spectral dust.
The white flame of each comet in transit shines. 

Dusk’s fiery glint on the Brazilian Sea, in stone
Cristo Redentor on Corcavado's summit shines. 

Sambethe chants sutras, invoking Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva —
The Vedic trinity engraved in her amulet shines. 

Father, my lament is veiled in a Eucharistic hymn.
The light you departed your body to inhabit shines.

 

STEFFEN HORSTMANN has written more than one hundred ghazals in English. His poems and book reviews have appeared in publications throughout the world, including in Baltimore Review, Common Ground Review, Istanbul Literary Review, The Kashmir Walla, Texas Poetry Journal, and Tiferet. His book of ghazals, Jalsaghar will be published by Kariboux Limited.