Friday, December 2, 2011

"The Dacca Gauzes" by Agha Shahid Ali

The Dacca Gauzes

          . . . for a whole year he sought
          to accumulate the most exquisite
          Dacca gauzes.
          —Oscar Wilde/The Picture of
                                  Dorian Gray

Those transparent Dacca gauzes
known as woven air, running
water, evening dew:

a dead art now, dead over
a hundred years. “No one
now knows,” my grandmother says,

“what it was to wear
or touch that cloth.” She wore
it once, an heirloom sari from

her mother’s dowry, proved
genuine when it was pulled, all
six yards, through a ring.

Years later when it tore,
many handkerchiefs embroidered
with gold-thread paisleys

were distributed among
the nieces and daughters-in-law.
Those too now lost.

In history we learned: the hands
of weavers were amputated,
the looms of Bengal silenced,

and the cotton shipped raw
by the British to England.
History of little use to her,

my grandmother just says
how the muslins of today
seem so coarse and that only

in autumn, should one wake up
at dawn to pray, can one
feel that same texture again.

One morning, she says, the air
was dew-starched: she pulled
it absently through her ring.

Source of the text – Agha Shahid Ali, The Half-Inch Himalayas.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1987, pp. 15-16.

TJB: Precolonial textile; fineness as artisanal & spiritual virtue. This gently compressed lyric compares life to fabric, the gauzier the better.

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