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  • 'Cry Bangladesh, Cry', Poems of Mohammad Rafiq [Parabaas Translation] : Mohammad Rafiq
    translated from Bengali to English by Carolyn Brown




    Cry Bangladesh, Cry

    Mohammad Rafiq

    Translated from Bangla by

    Carolyn Brown




    cry, the way a mother cradling her son as he sets out on death’s road

    laments

    the way a wife slapped by her drunken beast of a husband

    howls

    the way a disheveled girl repulsed by a lecher’s probing tongue

    shrieks

    the way Amena, sweaty and distraught, hands blood-spattered from breaking

    bricks

    wails

    the spring tide rises, an owl’s hoot fades in the depth of night

    sandalwood glows on the pyre, clouds swallow the full moon of Asharh,

    * * *

    scraps of iron are hammered flat over a red-hot

    fire

    kindled by fire-mantras, pyres burn down to ash

    our primeval mother

    is stretched over dead coals, flowing hair and flesh

    consumed

    a million fire-needles stitch through trailing saris

    through gutters

    through blind alleys in the burnt-out sockets of the constellations,

    * * *

    Padma, Meghna, and Mayurakkhi toy with fate

    tossing dice

    a cunning princess shakes loose her thick plaited

    hair

    tossing a seductive noose around every neck

    her lips scorch with curse-kisses of molten lava

    tongues lap blood from poisoned manholes

    in corpse-choked witches’ cauldrons water boils

    flesh

    bloodied sweat and powdered mud smear the age-old future,

    * * *

    the nameless past slips away on the ebb tide

    barely awake

    mudflat homes are swallowed by the water sorcerer

    the blaring

    fanfare of progress carries silt, quicksand

    seven hundred thousand

    acres of soil and seed, water and wind, clouds and rain

    torrents gobble up everything in one gulp, cackling and shrieking like witches

    rabid, ravenous for meal of human heads

    tasty

    female flesh, especially breasts and succulent thigh bones

    stinking

    bits stuck to dribbling lips—such morbid

    melas

    happen only once in a long while, when there’s enough demand or

    cash

    pay it off fast, reduce the debt to

    zero

    until the new-rice festival, the last day of the month

    or the market fair,

    * * *

    hopeless sighs

    in the crush of the marketplace someone’s shaking a rattle—cheap nose rings

    shiny baubles in rainbow colors

    baskets of bangles on display, a pair of performing snakes

    sly snake charmers, no saviors among them—as the world comes to an end

    salvation is a matter of trading in flesh—or humankind

    make-believe do-gooders masquerade

    smugly

    exploiting beggar women, muttering the mantra: principal and interest

    ay

    a Vaishnavite, sacred marks on her forehead, abandoned her village long ago

    today

    a beggar’s bag in one hand and the remnants of modesty in the other

    clutching

    her flapping anchal over her drooping breasts

    teeth

    flash in a tangle of vines, brambles, and creepers

    a snake,

    * * *

    rheum

    ruined eyes, ten fingers ripe with leprous

    ulcers

    sewers like dormant volcanoes brimful with lava, putrid with 10,000 years of

    shit

    squealing

    bawling of a pig or a scrawny old ox, throat cut

    wages

    for digging ditches all day: a handful of rice—the foreman puffs on a biri

    at night

    he seeks Rahima’s shack and sucks ambrosia from her battered breasts

    heaven

    will be dammed off from hell, heaven on one side

    an eternal

    cauldron of fire on the other

    mudslides

    shatter every last rib across boundless fields or

    inBagdi

    slums, in marshes, swamps—with the piercing call to morning prayer Rahima’s

    eyes

    open wide—back and forth an old turtle shell

    rocks,

    * * *

    no

    more cheap rides across the river, walk straight

    ahead

    knock at the doors of hell

    if

    they don’t open, push hard

    use your lathi, cry and cry face in your hands till you’re

    gasping with grief, let loose torrents of tears

    fire

    heaven and hell are burning, water woven with flames

    and so

    heaven will be dammed off from hell

    behold

    you’ll be raped—Pandava warriors break through the

    barricades

    the head Kauravas have fled to the forest, spears and axes over their

    shoulders

    they’ve run away—Krishna’s words of encouragement, love’s plaintive appeal

    an enticing crown

    a seductive flute’s plangent melody—trying to keep

    time

    is absurd—now there’s nothing but buying and selling, rice and dal

    paying in cash is all that matters

    Pandavas and Kauravas alike reach for their wallets,

    * * *

    cry Bangladesh, cry

    raise the flag, who knows

    how far away good times may be

    though launched

    the peacock boat is stuck in the

    mud

    optimism is a liar’s game—the vermilion in your part is crumbling

    now the rivers cry too

    keep on crying, turn to ashes

    rip off the veil of centuries, learn to stand on two

    feet

    let the water sorcerer’s curse be purged by fire.

    Jahangirnagar, Savar, 1989

    Published in Parabaas January 2016


    কাঁদো বাংলাদেশ, কাঁদো first appeared in মেঘে এবং কাদায় (In Mud and Clouds, 1991).

    Illustrated by Nilanjana Basu. Nilanjana has been regularly illustrating for Parabaas. She lives in California.

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