Reading Lolita in Kashmir

by Rafiq Kathwari

As a boy, I stole
into grandpa’s study.

An art merchant,
he loved books

with gilded edges,
Aristotle to Zola

all stuck together
in the humidity.

I snuck Lo out
to his black Chevy,

rifled for dirty bits,
steering her away

for a spin,
teen tunes swirling

in my head. ‘I want
to hold your hand.”


We hovered
over a valley

ringed
by sharp mountains,

white turbans on peaks.
Lake Dal,

in the hem,
polished by a soft breeze.

A paisley-shaped river
sobbed through a dazed valley:

Amputated
tree trunks screamed,

reams of plastic
choked icy streams.

Barbed wire
hedged the Shalimar

Tongas and Toyotas
jammed the bazaars.

An ancient Sufi shrine
oddly gutted,

its rich lattice-work lost.
New architecture

showed no awe
for nature.

Half- widows wailed,
clawed at mass graves,

yearning
for their disappeared.

Nightingales
sang of joy, not sorrow.

At Zero Bridge,
lilacs by bunkers bloomed.

A fighter jet
sound-boomed—

startled stray dogs
howled.

In Grandpa’s black Chevy,
Lolita slipped from my lap

as we returned from
a foreboding odyssey.

Rafiq Kathwari is a guest poet at 3 Quarks Daily.

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