Prayer Rug

written by

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Those intervals 
between the day’s 
five calls to prayer

the women of the house 
pulling thick threads 
through vegetables

rosaries of ginger 
of rustling peppers
in autumn drying for winter

in those intervals this rug 
part of Grandma’s dowry 

so the Devil’s shadow 
would not desecrate 
Mecca scarlet-woven

with minarets of gold 
but then the sunset 
call to prayer

the servants
their straw mats unrolled 
praying or in the garden

in summer on grass 
the children wanting 
the prayers to end

the women’s foreheads 
touching Abraham’s 
silk stone of sacrifice

black stone descended 
from Heaven
the pilgrims in white circling it

this year my grandmother 
also a pilgrim 
in Mecca she weeps

as the stone is unveiled 
she weeps holding on 
to the pillars

(for Begum Zafar Ali)

© Agha Shahid Ali