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  • Poems of Mohammad Rafiq : II : Mohammad Rafiq
    translated from Bengali to English by Prasenjit Gupta


    scenes[1] / 1

    startling the splash of an oar. the boatmen’s pulling, hey-o.
    darkness.
            she’s a girl from across the river.
    the mother left on a trading boat. her modesty
    bought wholesale by a Chandpur merchant. when?
    how much? without interest!
            she rests her head on bricks in jail.
    wakes.
    sudden the splash of an oar. cutting without forgiveness
    through the black water. in the dark current.


    scenes / 4


    where was the need to kill the cat,
    to smash its head, such a horrific sight.
    it was
    a nuisance, that was all.
    so, the superiority of muscle and intellect
    —was anything proved by this,
    conceit gratified, honor brought upon mankind?
    not that, certainly; rather, it was all
    comical, even if the viewer didn’t want to laugh,
    nor the doer himself.

    lip inside lip, fingernail delicately touching breast
    may engender an embarrassment;
    —who can say with certainty
    that to stretch the imagination this far, is itself
    laughable. maybe.

    scenes / 7

    wind. dust. heat. at play
    the immense supernatural wilderness.

    the farmer boy holds a fistful of hay
    motionless, calm, unblinking

    and all the world and planets watch breathless.

    this sunshine doesn’t know

    this sunshine doesn’t know, it knows nothing at all
    doesn’t know how to touch, doesn’t know how to smell
    how polite and extremely helpless
    it falls, unconcerned, across the entire field

    this sunshine doesn’t know, it knows nothing at all
    throughout the land the grass scatters as ashes
    on every tree the leaves almost withered from disease
    screaming caw, caw, all the marshes burn

    this sunshine doesn’t know, it knows nothing at all
    how polite and extremely helpless
    it falls, unconcerned, across the entire field
    and from main street to river-bank, men’s charred bodies

    Gaodiya

    Gaodiya, it might be a village,
    town, or marketplace,
    even all Bangladesh.
    scattered about here
    meaningless births, meaningless dreams or nightmares,
    the rusted muscles of battle-weary arms, plough-blades.
    with the force of the terrible flood, the burst-open ribs
    of the river, the darkness within.
    gashing the pitch-black night, the motherland’s sigh.

    poems

    1

    some days the boat leaves the bank just this way
    just this way the ceaseless rain without reason
    on some wet path, deserted, village streets slippery with mud
    some days, embracing the rain just this way, alone
    comes the evening; on the banyan leaf the destitute crow alone
    in the wind ceaseless tears without reason
    on some days the boat leaves the bank just this way

    3

    the grass always deceives
    slender naked and soft
    it hides inside itself
    scorpions toads a legion of spiders

    the grass always deceives
    restless youth aroused
    enfolding in its heart
    a serpent’s lissom strike

    4

    in the eye of the tranquil water someone entirely without reason
    threw a rock in the meditating water
    the round wavelets just woken from their dreams
    somewhat alarmed, confused, bustled and broke one upon another
    with that a face suddenly breaking the bolts of memory
    a wet laugh, chapped lips, knocking its head upon the water
    in the eye of the tranquil water someone entirely without reason
    threw a rock; threw the world into chaos

    5

    so much light and the light engrossing you
    so much rain and the rain besieging you
    so much sky and the blue saturating you
    helpless so helpless

    near the swiftly rushing main street
    shaken by one or another’s kindness
    a small tree now somewhat grown
    near the forest’s wild old age near one’s own greenness

    how guilty you are, how helpless


    all across Bishnupur

    all across Bishnupur the leaves fall this cold evening
    dust and hay dance in some light some shadow
    in every house the lamp-flames quiver in the buffeting wind

    all across Bishnupur nervous cows and buffaloes
    returning from canals and marshes, breath sharp and loud,
    walk bewildered past the duck pen

    all across Bishnupur the water-snakes wait
    suddenly the vulture flaps its wings and cries,
    tearing into the darkness. as if someone were walking

    all across Bishnupur, across the disused ghats
    in the sheltered undergrowth two sharp eyes burn with greed
    startling the bat hanging in the bamboo grove

    unknown feet scurry across the thatched roof
    a sudden splash rises by the green-covered pier
    a tamarind branch, creaking, breaks and falls

    without reason; across Bishnupur the fearful bodies
    huddle under old sheets, anxious and unmoving
    a few reluctant frogs climb over the threshold

    in the throng of the nearby korui[2] tree, a night-bird whimpers
    all across Bishnupur an uneasy sleep descends, and then
    the cobra comes from its hole and spreads its murdering hood.

    a slice of sudden lightning


    lustrous painted body a slice of sudden lightning
    from dreams to reality from reality to deep sleep

    inside the earth the grace of shelter food air and sun
    thrusting from the pit of the mouth running flame like a snake’s hood

    not within eye’s reach the arcane comings and goings of experience
    letting poison into the bloodstream people say it’s a sin

    the body and its strange colors a slice of sudden lightning
    with reflection from dreams comes reality from reality awareness

    no burning pain no grief no sharp stricken shivering
    from sleep to deep sleep someone more dreamless

    collapses without benefit of burden this they call the serpent’s bite.


    [1]The running title of this set of poems is “Chalchitro”: a circular mat containing paintings of heavenly scenes, placed behind an idol
    [2]The korui, in Bengali folk tales, is a large tree in which gods and fairies live


    Translated by Prasenjit Gupta [Proshenjit Gupto ]. Prasenjit Gupta is a translator and writer living in Iowa City. (more)

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

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