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Mohammad Rafiq

Translated from Bangla by

Carolyn Brown

stunned midnight—this vulture-rain wails on and on
cloud-devouring demon

miles on end of benumbed jute fields
howling jackals, grumbling thunder
dark rows of hurricane lanterns

a face—from long ago—whose is it? grasping arms, shocked breasts
darkness-battered winds rip up bamboo and thatch
whooping, cackling, whipping soaked saris from unsuspecting bodies

with heart-rending cries Jamuna’s water-ribs crush and


fistfuls of counterfeit words stutter and wheeze

ducks wedge their bills in the mud and doze

this sense of guilt
Joynal—in sun and rain, in clouds and mud—
a chiseled body, arms sharp as palm leaves

no trace of a grave, just some muddy grass
a slight hollow spot, stagnant water, arrested air

a life’s fading signature—here one day, gone the next
a summons—moss-choked face of an old friend—haunted, afraid

that taste of a kiss

pushing toward the ghat through clumps of water hyancinths
walking back beneath the bokul trees after a bath

both hands spilling over with mud-spattered flowers
gathered along the way

forehead grazed by a rueful kiss

the last boat of the day has left the marketplace
abandoning the crowd of customers at the landing
knee-deep in rising water—hair unbraiding

in the roaring monsoon—murky water
under the pond scum—bokul blossoms lying in drifts
forehead grazed by a salty kiss, hot and bitter

this is a lifelong promise

that never made it back home

each home has an address—to bless with incense and dung
awnings around the courtyard—under the moon

an evening breeze flits through the vegetable patch
into the bamboo—spreading the head-spinning
fragrance of kamini
a plate heaped with rice—a sprig
of jasmine tucked in a knot of hair
where the starlit sky joins the riverbank
dawn’s perfume can be caught in the palm of a hand

black water laps the edge of a brimful pond
spilling tears in secret

a darkening flood of homeless mysteries

what’s left?—the ledger says zero—nothing

someone’s still using the black dregs to paint blood’s delirious drone
flood-borne words whisper endlessly behind the back of the backs of words
on faded hand-embroidered quilts

the stitching inches along

yesterday a boat went drifting by with its net
sail and tether

unfurling the sail in the hollow wind, a forlorn fisherman
sits alone on the ceaselessly weeping water

raindrops keep dripping on Agunmukha, the fire-faced river
water heatless as the ashes of shooting stars

tonight jute fields are drowning in the drunken rain
hurricane lanterns outline face after frightened face
shivering breasts, mud-coated thighs
Jamuna’s water-soaked ribs crack, raising a wordless
neverending cry
frozen fodder—burden of guilt

these are
exhausted nightmares

schools of slippery fish vanished long ago
buried under the silt

muddy whirlpools spawn counterspinning whirlpools of mud

cached weapons rust when the war ends
bodies get rusty too

Amin’s arthritic hands seek warmth just as muscular hands
seek a fire in winter—a sparklike touch on a bare arm—vines
that entwine trees and bind their leafy crowns together

Sakhina’s husband has gone and sold her at some other market
to a man from a foreign land

even so, you know, Sakhina couldn’t forget that bastard’s face
or the stinging poison of his lips

Beluya’s eyes, Fatema’s smile

Sakhina begins to whimper—a stray-dog sort of whimper

the stray dogs are crying
ceaseless rain swamps the night

a pair of vultures are crying

all this noise and weeping

with no shores, no banks—oh, hear that faraway
wail—that unbroken sound—it’s only Padma’s ribs cracking
a pair of snakes

pyre and fire—coupled

in the face of our wretched ferrying back and forth

thunder bellows forth another life

after all this, then what? the rain—neither tired nor tamed—

ends too, leaving only the stunned midnight

and a hoarse cry—solitary and restless

Published in Parabaas January 2016


The poem ডাক 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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