My grandfather, the last illluminator of Qur’ans in Herat, went blind at fifty-two.
All his life, his brush was forbidden cedar forests, clear-eyed falcons, horses, men—
Any shape that might rival God’s first stick figure on the dust jacket of life,
Any doodle with a root, hoof, hand, or frond.
A diacritical dot, the rules went, must not masquerade as a watermelon-seed.
An alif must not be reborn as a leaf, nor a laam as a lamb, nor a baa as a sheep.
My grandfather’s stained-glass cataracts left his eyes as blue-grey as an Englishman’s.
Fingertips ink-black, wick-black where the light had long ago alit
Saw by feel his grandson, his living image.
Indigo infused his lenses, madder red his rosacea.
Those lenses were solid haze, as if a dry nib leeched his inkdrop pupils
To conjure a border or crosshatch mountains outlaw.
Cataracts are waterfalls: When my father closed his father’s eyes,
Thousands of unpenned images, unpent at last,
Thrashed upstream to the breeding waters of his dreams.


This poem appeared in the November 8, 2012 issue of the magazine.