By Muhammad Ashiq

i remember her hair:

sinewy, silvery threads,

crystalizing stalactites,

hanging from her moonlit scalp—

i saw them form and fall

every time she left her car.

one day, on a winter morning,

she came running,

pumpkins in hand,

frantically preparing

a flame-ridden carnival.

her kindness knew no bounds;

on halloween nights,

as fervent yelps of overjoyed kids

rose as clouds and fell to the earth as rain,

her caring matchstick struck against childish hearts.

she set ablaze a hollowed pumpkin,

light leaping from the eyes and mouth

onwards, through the purpling sky,

like the brightness of wildfire from a fallen lantern

impaling the hearts of children like me.

i left my childhood home

near which she resided.

i went from our leaf-laced avenues—

all shades, an autumn song—

to streets of lush greens and dark greys,

a somber mezzopiano of organized orchestra.

not a single sidewalk in sight!

isn’t that surprising, sally?

i left you, and i’m sorry.

no grandkids, and i’m sorry.

my kids won’t even visit!

i gave them everything.

and i’m sorry.

forgive me, i beg.

forgive them, too,

i plead, as i take

a matchstick from

your box of empathy.

i strike it; but,

i cannot set hearts alight.

i cannot envelop them like you,

with your unyielding flame,

spilling from seas of souls, 

covering meadows of minds,

exciting chatter of children, 

enkindling yelps of youth, 

clear threads of smoke rising

dancing on the wind

unravelled from inner pains 

woven from inveterate joy. 

i wish you were here to tell me how,

how can i strike these matches properly?

sally? are you there?

sally? where did you go?


i’m sorry, my boy.

she doesn’t live here anymore.

for your kindness to my family,

i thank you.

as skeletons shift into amalgams of bone,

crawling back into their haunted forests,

i thank you.

as wisps of mist disperse,

creaking latched doors shut,

i thank you.

as ghouls return to their graves,

falling into voids of pindrop silence,

i thank you.

and when those souls are brought from the earth,

traveling to heavens far above the mind’s eye,

legions of lives before The Bestower of Honors,

whispers will come alive on my tongue:

soften her judgement, o Shaper of Beauty.

soften the judgement of my beloved neighbor

an arsonist of compassion to your eternal spirits.  

soften the judgement of sally, a woman of Your Mercy,

and bring her to the highest garden.