I wore heaven around my shoulders.
The summers, jaaneman, were long. We
courted birds of paradise in the shade of
the palace. When I was a king, nothing we
hunted was left to suffer slow death by night.
When I was a prince, a bright young starling
of a shah, my eyelashes fell at the sight of you
in court. I dreamed you every night in the inky
thereafter, tossed in the bower of my longings,
every thick aching for you stitched in glimmering
Lover, look at the garment of our desire. How it
tilts toward the light, greener than jungle skin, gold
like the eyes of the baagh we chased, sword over the
sweep of your thigh plunging deep into that tigers heart.
When I am a man in love with another, I wear my
passions in secret around my shoulders, like heaven.
We lived, o courtier, in astonishing times. We walked
under the secret arches of our longing; we pressed palms
sticky with medjool dates into our flesh quivering from
the hunt. When you slip the robe from my shoulders, I
forget I am a lord. The choga slithers to the ground like a
liquid serpent, glistening green, palpating golden as a lair
to lay you down. You love me in the swathes of that holy
When I wear the robe, I scent your attar of roses, our vines of
midnight jasmine, the secret chancery of your tongue in my mouth,
nimble as a sunward grapevine. I press the collar to my lips. I drink
from your heart. When I wear the robe, I come naked in your arms.
Of ten thousand threads is love made, and in one sharp arrow
our mortal ends are fletched. When I am a warrior king, wise and
wading in the blood-stuffed gills of the great rebellion, what need
can I have for the sanctuary of such vestments? While I fight, I see you
standing in the centre of our bedroom, your brown thighs rippling like
the quaking earth. When cannon fire crushes my chest, I pretend it is
the roar of our tiger, returning to life. I weep when I find myself
in a common place, so far from the pattern of your voice, cracked
limbs of sepoys leaking like heaven. Believe me, here there is no softness.
When I was your king, dying, I fell in rigid armour. Lover, I wore no robes.