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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


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


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


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



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


kindled by fire-mantras, pyres burn down to ash

our primeval mother

is stretched over dead coals, flowing hair and flesh


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


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


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


female flesh, especially breasts and succulent thigh bones


bits stuck to dribbling lips—such morbid


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


pay it off fast, reduce the debt to


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


exploiting beggar women, muttering the mantra: principal and interest


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


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


her flapping anchal over her drooping breasts


flash in a tangle of vines, brambles, and creepers

a snake,

                        *                      *                      *


ruined eyes, ten fingers ripe with leprous


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



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


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


will be dammed off from hell, heaven on one side

an eternal

cauldron of fire on the other


shatter every last rib across boundless fields or


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


open wide—back and forth an old turtle shell


                        *                      *                      *


more cheap rides across the river, walk straight


knock at the doors of hell


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


heaven and hell are burning, water woven with flames

and so

heaven will be dammed off from hell


you’ll be raped—Pandava warriors break through the


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


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


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


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


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).

Translated by Carolyn Brown Carolyn Brown's first translations from Bengali were of poems by Mohammad Rafiq, a participant in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in 1993... (more)

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

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