“You are present in our lives, in our kitchens”: Five ghazals by Elizabeth Marshall

Ghazal 1

It will be from the time I rise to the time I lay my head, oh Elaha
The throb, at the back of the wrist, in the heart, oh father, oh Elaha.

The morning surrenders unto a million memories of tea rose
Against the deepest blue of sapphire, hallowed be Thy name, Elaha.

When I called out to you on a rainy afternoon at St Anthony’s
You delivered a David of a man, may thy kingdom come, Oh Elaha.

They say this name, the name I revere and crave
You’re the Beloved, Thy will be done, is for them alone, Oh Elaha

You are present in our lives, in our kitchens
In our hospitals, in our hearts, in heaven as it is, has been on Earth, Elaha

Give us this day Saviour Lord, beloved, our daily bread
Help me remember the loaves and fishes cerita, Elaha, Elaha

When followers claim they have heard the voice
Forgive us our trespasses, our doubts, Elaha, Elaha

Take our temptations of doubts and jealousies, burn them.
At the altar of sacrifice, let believers just believe, Elaha

9th May 2018. Let this day be our new independence
Purge our country, cleanse our hearts from Bijan’s, deliver us from all evil, Elaha Elaha



—Elaha Allah is the Arabic word for God in Abrahamic religions. In the English language, the word generally refers to God in Islam.

—Ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak was nicknamed Bijan, which has a negative connotation.


Ghazal 2

Empty carts of all types venture into the grey orange building Ah Chee
Baskets, plastic, rollers big and small, roll on the floors Ah Chee

Half a decade ago, the wallets in pockets were thinner.
And so were the kittens, small baskets of pink plastic, like the one you had, Ah Chee

A day ago these dead fish, now lying on the hard cement
Were beautiful creatures, filled with life, like you, were years ago, Ah Chee.

Then people behind the counter, fair-skinned Chinese boys in white singlets and shorts.
Now, these are tanned and speak a foreign tongue, Ah Chee

Even the capsicum, one shrivelled and matt, now appear.
Like an advertisement, in red, yellow and green, gleaming even Ah Chee

A seamstress, the egg-seller, and the slipper vendor mull away in their smaller corners.
As if waiting for a silent ending, like you Ah Chee

The butcher, the lone sinewy young ‘Salman’ of before, in his place a young woman
Striking the leg of the lamb with a tarrrrk tarrrk terror, unsettling Ah Chee

And you, from the stall, your vegetables in organised display,
Withered and spent, a teenager’s hairband in your mane, Ah Chee


 —Ah Chee, A term of endearment, Malaysians address an older woman in this manner. Casual.


Ghazal 3

The season is marked with hurried preparations, Raya
Weeks ahead the Malaysian community remembers the phrase, lepas raya

The fasting, the praying, the clothes buying,
Tell us the month is fast approaching, thoughts on lepas raya

Students appear at lectures freshly bathed, like a fake rose
Wet hair pressed behind the ears, dreaming of the time, lepas raya

The government offices, exhausted with the weight of papers on tables,
The heat adding to their thirst, stamps an invisible lepas raya 

A month passes, the endless cooking has begun
Pak Ciks and Mak ciks  stock the stalls for foodies for lepas raya

Every highway leading away from the city, now heavy
With traffic every Friday, carrying umis and abahs home for visits, lepas raya

The Lazadas and the Zaloras show beautifully crafted
Bajus in shy shades of blue, for wear lepas raya

The day of the celebration is finally here, all necessary songs have been sung
Still the government officers lovingly stamp, without thinking Lepas Raya

The fitted-out Baju over the six pack seem to strain a little, showing a big pack.
The parties have only just begun, Lepas raya

Finally, the parties are coming to an end, the celebrations have been over for a month…but
But there is one last party to go to, the party Lepas Raya.


—Lepas Raya, the literal meaning is after the celebrations.  Most times to mean the Eid festival, in the Muslim calendar month of Shawwal


Ghazal 4

The church-bell behind the school, beside the hospital, tolls a Yuletide
The shops a kilometre away sprouts conifers, marking Yuletide.

Every little cottage, along  many small rowdy streets
Strings a tight fish rope from the ceiling to mid-way, the star of Yuletide.

These PJ folks, many have been here for almost half a century
The Sta Marias, the Dragons, the Fernandezes, know the Yuletide.

And of course the De Cruzes, the Gomes and the Pereiras
They went to the La salle schools and the Assuntas

Advent begins when the 6.30 am choir has sung the first carol
Into many homes, the Christmas trees now lay bare,  Yuletide.

In some hearts, parishioners pray for a new spring of faith
Others dream of families returning to fill the chairs, during the Yuletide.

Late into December nights you still hear choir voices
Boys and girls bringing joy into neighbourhood homes, for the Yuletide

That one shop, facing the plastic-shop is a bloom with fairy lights,
All familiar faces from the Assumption parish, looking for goodies for Yuletide

The homes now transform into little Christmas cottages.
White lights adorn every branch, reindeers up on roofs, signalling the soon approaching, Yuletide

The Christmas FM, Irelands No 1 Christmas station, fills the home,
Their stories of Christmases all over the world, Yuletide time.

The family, the food, the gifts and the homes are now in their proper places.
Jesus Christ is finally born again, and so begins the Yuletide.


Ghazal 5

The silver spiked kavadi has been uncovered, Vel Vel
There lingers a desperation in every prayer but, vel, vel.

In this northern state of Kedah, in an ancient province
Thaipusam is coming vel, vel

Best to tie these tongues, garland the empty bellies
And place them as colored papers, vel vel

The Mariappan mamas, the Kartik sitapas
Push their bags into rooms, that house across the hospital, vel vel

Their young hands, dreaming of the walk behind the chariots
Dress the kavadis with peacock’s feathers, squashing a thought, vel vel

It is 6am, the kavadi bearer with thoughts cleansed
Walk to the temple, where pain is a blessing, they may sing, Vel, Vel

The kavadi bearers dancing the trance, wearing the little spikes like a brave soldier,
in tantric tempo, Vel Vel

The drummers begin their beat on skin stretched drums.
The kavadi bearer’s pain drives him deeper, to that Subramaniam, Vel Vel

The kavadi bearer, the deity for the day,
Family gathers for the day round the table veg for the day, vel vel

The house at mid-morning falls to a hush
The Kavadi bearer rest with his bevy of fans, vel vel

The garden sits still in the dusk, cousins talking
The best-decorated kavadi is always by the Seelans, vel,vel

The night kavadis pass in succession the dance, the drumming
Like the heartbeat of the sweethearts touching hands behind the chariot, vel vel

The brothers talk in excited tones, their bellies filled with spirits,
In another tantric trance, vel vel


Elizabeth Marshall writes in Asian forms. Her furore into writing ghazals came after she discovered Rumi and Agha Shahid Ali’s Ravishing Disunities. A Malayalee Malaysian Academic, Elizabeth is interested to use Asian forms such as the ghazal to give voice to her contemporary Malaysian experience. Sexing Kofhee was first published in 2014 a collection with ghazals, pantoums and prose poems. She is writing her PhD at Nottingham University Malaysia in Creative Writing.

Read more poetry on Bengaluru Review:

“I am an old harmonium”: Three poems by Sekhar Banerjee

“I sank a marriage of stone and water”: Four poems by Sophia Naz

‘It was spring and we suckled dreams’: Four poems by Linthoi Ningthoujam



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