Category Archives: Poetry

About Jehangir Saleh

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Jehangir was a curious, creative and inspirational philosophy student who dedicated his time and work to the idea of ‘opening up’ and understanding chronic illness, finding strength in adversity and establishing creative and inclusive communities of understanding and support.

Born April 9, 1985, in Toronto he died June 28, 2013, in Toronto, due to complications from cystic fibrosis, aged 28.

He was unfailing in seeking to find true meaning in every encounter and relationship and he fostered a strong and deeply memorable sense of shared community among cystic fibrosis patients, families, caregivers and clinicians.

This page is dedicated to his memory.  We encourage you to learn about Jehangir and the Annual Lecture series which has been established in his honor.

Blog 2

By: Jehangir Saleh
Written: October 9, 2011

My grandmother’s in a nursing home. Stuff happens there: residents get wheeled to meals, sometimes they play bingo, sometimes they hobble around the halls.

“What happened today?” I ask her. “Nothing,” she replies.

And she’s right. Each day it’s the same meals at the same times. The same faces animated by the same pains. The same activities with the same motive: to occupy time instead of building something within it.

Days change. Seasons change. Time pushes on. Yet everyday – whether Monday, Thursday or Sunday – is experienced by my grandmother as the same day. Something happens (“bingo!”), but doesn’t register as a happening.

For us to experience something happening, more needs to happen than just the bare fact of a happening. Or, put differently, what happens and what we experience doesn’t necessarily coincide.

Leaves fall. Matter sits around, and thenbumps into other matter. Organisms grow, and die. The world happens, and we primarily see ourselves as witnesses of this happening. There’s something really true about this: this strange mysterious thing we call the world moves on it’s own, which is to say, it doesn’t need us to tell it what to do. And this means that we’re primarily seeing something unfold. Chipmunks forage on their own, and collect seeds that have fallen on their own, which come from trees that have grown on their own…

So, in one sense, when it comes to the world, someone can ask, “what’s happening?” and all we need to do is look and describe what we see.

But my grandmother’s senses work perfectly. She is a witness to all these happenings. She sees the halls, and the residents, as she gets wheeled to dinner. She hears the bingo guy (“34O!”).And this perhaps is the problem: she experiences her reality as something to witness, as something unfolding outside of her, rather than something to participate in. Things are happening in some objective sense, but they aren’t happening to her.

Bingo – or anything else, for that matter – needs to find someway of connecting with her, someway of mattering to her – but the bare fact of bingo happening doesn’t have enough power to affect my grandmother directly: only she can decide whether it matters to her or not. It is only by finding a way to speak to what matters to her (religion, family, Indian food, match-making, bargain hunting…), only by connecting with her identity,that she can actually be “inside” the happening of bingo. Until then, she’ll hear the bingo sounds. She’ll hear me encouraging her to play. She’ll see people hobble around the tables. Stamp the cards. But none of this will feel like it’s happening to her.
But these don’t register to her as “happenings”. She hasn’t found

None of these things matter to her.

But in each case, she doesn’t inhabit her situation: she witnesses it,
In the hallway, she’s not

And this is precisely the problem: she encounters her reality as something unfolding outside of her, rather than having a say in the way that unfolding takes place.

Just as we watch the birds bathing themselves in a puddle, my grandmother watches the nurse cleaning her immobile body.

This is why, when you ask people “what happened?” they can give differing, even competing, accounts.

Think of all the things that happen, but that don’t actually happen, i.e., you don’t register them as events.

Your mother dies. You know she’s not here anymore. But it still feels as if, on Sunday, she’s going to pick you up for brunch.

Your uncle has cancer with six months left. He knows this. You ask him, “What can I help you do in these last 6 months that will be meaningful to you?” “Nothing,” he says. “I’ll be fine.” He goes to work and comes home to watch TV, just as he did before the diagnosis.

For something to happen – for some reality to “start up” – there needs to be a before and after.

It leaves it mark on the future, such that
Reality happens when it registers meaningfully in our experience, when it touches our lives, and we become oriented by it.

Poem 12

By: Jehangir Saleh
Written: October 28, 2010

now the end
dishwasher running
silence laying bricks around the room
i spill water

you die a plant grows
roof drips grief so thick
it cannot be carried by the sea
they let me touch

your body perfect, warm
made from every century, every sand
every sun

everysleeping army
the most dead i will ever be
pushed so far inside you
dark outside

the ward teeters
unspoken edge

air moves slowly into our bodies, entering a series of caves
we are bare bones

the time of falling trees
do we breath for more than the sum of our natural lives,
for someone to pause to compare us to a field of crickets?

our dreams blossom like tumours
we stare them down

Mid Afternoon The Season Changes

Mid Afternoon The Season Changes
By: Jehangir Saleh
Written: September 21, 2010

limbs sigh
trunk uprooted
leaves were, all along, full of blood

fished from a muddy stream
lungs compete to make larger
a wet sand pale
chest cavity

little wind

leaves fall

reuniting on the floor

a tiny furnace for decay
covers paths made through my body

was I here?

still breathing.

the river manages a small tide.

wind labours down the sand pale.

fish rattle

i am dripping laundry in the dirty breeze

the final movements of a rapidly freezing river

the flag of a war torn country

the empty house, black smoke spewing

the sounds of my native language

a bird
and the sky, all along, a series of open windows
now slowly being shut
before food travels through my veins
i inject my pancreas into my thigh

my muscles belong to whomever
wheels my body

yesterday they kept my liver running

had to shock my heart
back into me

people trip on my penis
pooling piss at their feet

lungs inhale though

i can’t stop them

two more days:
your body barely lit

i remember

from your organs
growing buttercups in the kitchen

bleeding in jars
to save on flashlight batteries

beside you, so much light
i couldn’t sleep

secretions glow

light lingers



Mid Afternoon The Season Changes

Mid Afternoon The Season Changes
By: Jehangir Saleh
Written: September 14, 2010

there is less time inside my body

arms, once branched upwards, now sigh
legs slightly uprooted
leaves showing they were, all along, full of blood

lungs have been fished from a drying stream
wriggling, bleeding on to each other
competing to make larger the tiny patch of wetness
at the bottom of a sand pale
inside my chest cavity

my fat feet can no longer fly

The wind, tired, but enough
Crimson falls in patches, revealing the bones
upon which life grew

Reuniting on the floor to build a tiny furnace for decay,
Leaves cover the paths I made through my body

It’s starting to look as if I was never here

But I’m breathing.

The drying river manages a small tide.

The wind labours through the sand pale.

Inside, two slimy fish rattle

perhaps this disease was around, 1918 Kerala
a village girl
digging for a swollen doll
brushing his tangled hair
he didn’t always need to be animated
from the outside

how trust worthy, you think, our ancestors were
building into our tradition so many years of foresight
anticipating a mutation in the body’s scriptures
cells instructed to produce a pus filled kingdom
for a nomadic, peaceful bacteria
now no longer homeless
now filling the branches of my bronchioles with nails
and making them rust

everyday, after praying, you would help me
mop the floor of my body, and sometimes
mop my body off the floor
while describing to me a vision of life
based on breathes I could not take

we can do no more

the past, you think, has already done the work of figuring out
what to do now:
speak the dead, perform their rituals, feed me contaminated water, recite versus that are spoken, but not said
wait, pray, wait

the past like a snake
that enters every room
before you do

when you look at me
I worry you see a body floating down a barely flowing river,
Already in the midst of a ritual
You speak but cannot say

its light in here
maybe dark outside, maybe I hear rain
maybe the ward is teetering on an unspoken edge

we all breath together

air moves slowly into our bodies, as if entering a series of caves
then rushing out

the two tracks of existence have separated:
we are running on natural time
our bones display a bare geometry
our hands grasp for objects we can no longer reach
we are moved without moving ourselves

the separation between object and subject
that our bodies once dissolved
have been put back
May we still breath for more than the sum of our natural lives
May someone pause and listen to our collective breath
as they would for a field of crickets

i am tired
across the hall, I can hear her tumours struggle to blossom
someone is still staring them down

Dear Lovely Friends

By: Jehangir Saleh
Written: June 13, 2010

Dear lovely friends,

I wanted to say something about my health, since things have changed for now. I’ve been in the hospital for 55 days. This length of time is unfortunate, but not really new for me. What is new, however, is that I don’t seem to be improving. My lung function sits stubbornly at 55% (baseline: 70%). I am coughing up abstract art. My white blood cell count (a marker of infection) is bouncing around. My lungs don’t feel great, especially at night.

One big problem is that the mucus sitting in my lungs is thick, murky and very infected. I have been trying new airway clearance techniques. It’s helping a bit, but I’m not winning. Clearly, this is not the kind of game where they are winners or losers. Rather, it’s the kind of game where the rules keep changing and no one tells you about it, such that you’ve been strategizing for an outcome based on rules that no longer apply. The space you’ve been moving toward has already become “somewhere else”, except your sister misplaced the little guide book that came with the game, so no one is telling you what that “somewhere else” looks like.

I feel a bit like I’m in a play where initial scene just repeats, and the dialogue is poorly written. There’s a lot of “yesterday is like today, which is going to be like tomorrow”.

I’m trying hard to figure out how to make sure this difficult, indeterminate period doesn’t generate addictions or make me stop bathing. I was thinking about what might help. So starting today: MY HOSPITAL ROOM IS NOW A COFFEE SHOP (and, as long as the doctors aren’t around, an oxygen bar.)

Conveniently located in the heart of downtown Toronto, we serve really high quality tea and low-quality chocolates, have free wireless, are wheel chair accessible and sometimes have live music performances. Plus, immediate access to medical care should the need arise!

I’m bloody serious. If you’re willing, please bring your work or stuff or whatever you usually do in a library or other coffee shop, and come do it here, where your presence can my reason to take a bath in the little sink they let me do that in. There is free wireless. I’m open from 8am to midnight. The number is 416 864 5454 x. 46811. It helps if you can plan ahead a bit, but recently, I’ve things have been pretty slow.

Seriously. Come here. I’ll make us tea. And then we can, in the same space, work on our respective projects or generate one together. You’ll get company, chocolate and free tea. Or, if you want to and are able, you could help me with my mucus drainage therapies.

Epilogue: Perfect Ankles

Epilogue: Perfect Ankles
By: Jehangir Saleh
Written: March 1, 2010

morning feels slippery
ward is quiet
while the hospital teeters on the edge
outside you imagine it’s raining
oceans forming in the cracks of the sidewalk
parked cars like strange, beached mechanical whales
waiting for the sun

a plastic cup
forms a womb from which you sip
while you watch the mound of your wife’s body
blended into the bed sheets
only holes remain where the wires had been (?)
her breathing was an organic radio wave
that you had access to
until a machine replaced her lungs
sickness destroying everything
except her feet

now you watch the natural geometry
of her perfect ankles

her arms around you
like the national flag
of a war torn country

touch the last light of her hair
a final (solemn) gesture in a time of war

when she said
i love you
she really meant that
you reminded her of her intrinsic capacity
for discovering all that she had been searching for

when you say
i love you
you really mean
what I have been searching for
is you

Notes On The Past Week

By: Jehangir Saleh
Written: August 16, 2009


1) The woman I am in love with is seven years older than me, yet much too young. She was brought up by her mother who is fifty seven, yet younger than her. I wrote her a poem once, in which I painted her a mountain and placed myself, a pilgram, on it’s peak.
When I touch her body, it is soft, fresh, the tissues are developing. She smiles at me, so sweetly gently, that I forget I am on a mountain. That I can’t travel anywhere unless I find someway to get down.
2) My anxiety has been terrible. Like a drawer where you last kept your opium, like Leonard says, except it feels like the drawer is me. I am glad that I remember how to perform who Jehangir is – what he says, how he looks, how he feels. I make jokes about my man-breasts, memorize clever things and pretend like I did when I was trying to impress my teacher in grade two who I was attracted too without knowing really what to do about it. I know what to do, it just seems I’m very persistent.

3) My lungs are like two very old oven mitts, like two over weight rabbits, like two vaccum bags that my grandmother forgot to change. They have been acting weird, tighting and twitching, but I’m learning to see that they look up to me.

4) I had some very impure thoughts about a refreshingly simple looking woman who works at the circulation desk at the Ryerson Library. I have a thing for librarians – women who touch a lot of books. I know nothing about her, only that he has green sandals and goofy looking toes which always seems stained with the earth. I want so bad to get back to what it real, to feel my feet pressed firmly into the earth, to have something support my body. We don’t have sex, she just reads to me.
I was in grade four, working on a project. I had left it to the “last minute”, or so thought my father, but what he really meant was, “what you have isn’t good enough, so you need to do it again”. It was midnight. My project was on some sort of poisonous African frog. My father had no patience, and I remember having some sort of fantasy where he was yelling at me because I wasn’t understanding someone quickly enough, and imaging myself because saved from an army of green and red poisonous African frogs who injected my father with their venom.
My father screamed at me because I didn’t indent my last line and this somehow proved that I wasn’t paying attention. His ears were red, and cheeks were puffing out like someone trying to steal sweets in their mouth. I always avoided his eyes.

For the mystery, for the void, which we don’t need to understand, but merely exist within.


By: Jehangir Saleh
Written: June 5, 2009

Mourning from a far

Write about trying to grieve both for oneselve, one’s own losses, and the strange distance of these losses.

Kyle died. I cried about 48 secs. I timed it.

Mom & Dad

By: Jehangir Saleh
Written: April 24, 2008

In this book there is a past, present and future all at once.

Let me explain…

The idea behind this book was to create a reflection on what you have built together. It is to gather the voices of those who love you, whose lives you have touched. It is to give you a sense of the past, but only so you have a sense of where you might go in the future.

This is also a book about those who have been meaningful to you. Who have helped shape your past, and will help carry you into the future. In some important way, you couldn’t tell a story about either one of you without making reference to some of the people, events and narratives inside this book.

This book is also about the past because it is in the past where our hidden meanings are. It is in the past that we bury things, whether they by sad, happy, difficult or joyous. We often think we can just leave them in the past, but we can’t: they come back and emerge in our present whether want them to or not.

So this book is also about the present. By looking at the past, we have a sense of how we have gotten to the present. The present is made up the things we experience now. Feeling about the past is something done in the present. Thinking toward the future is something done in the present. The present is where we are: it is where we are free, for it is where we must decide, based on our past, what to do next.

And so, finally, we come to the future. The future is something still undetermined, because it hasn’t happened yet. But we can have a sense of our future in the present by looking at our past. The future is both exciting and scary. The future means things will be different; things will change. The scary part is perhaps not that things will be difficult, but that the future invites us to choose differently than we have in the past. The future calls us to make choices, to make our present situation different through our actions.

This book tells a story about where you came from (the past), how you go to be where you are (the present) and where you might be going (the future).