(for Nibedita Deb)
Poets my ancestors in Charyapada
talked a dialect that I myself don't know;
all their threads break in my hands.
I hear their words on my tongue
sound like birds flying
with the distant twilight wind,
their ideas that I try to understand
come up buzzing around me
like flies from a yellow landscape,
their dresses that I imagine
putting on like one back to the antiques
cause curiosity for museum curators.
Yet I read the calm of their lives,
even knowing that I am restless,
never to know their placid sophistries;
and all of my moments are longer –
proven to be rootless like hyacinths
floating on the sluggish floodwater.
Dog-eared pages I turn and learn
nothing of love's music, I don't let it sing.
It's on my lust's slippery track I glide.
Yet, medieval lyrics of amour I read,
the man who spent his nights
in the wild pleasures of the flesh.
In a clime of lusty snares I scrutinize
Krishna's bites on Radha's breasts,
their trysts in the lonely groves.
I know from shivers for each other –
passion's heat is stronger than lust's;
how can I hold so much of love?
As for singers of Mymensingh Ballads,
they all have risen from this
common ground I rarely step on.
Their songs might have entered
my ancestors' lungs like smoke
from their much-adored hookahs.
I remember the sing-along
in my Grandpa's backyard, everyone
trying to sing out above the rest,
melodies to glide with on grace.
But it's only in my heart's chamber
a discordant harmony that I hear –
out of tune with the ballads
that stem from this very soil and give
oxygen to our yellowed psyche.
Strange that nothing comes soothing
for a double-born kid that I am,
bristling with tales of grief and torture.
I have seen this world's lights fade
and the gleams that I have gleaned
off my gold never crowd into me.
No, that's not all I have so far told.
Yes, I grope for a lighted knot
in the valley of vapours and mist
and I miss the visions long-
drawn from Lalon's dark well; I carry
on my shoulders a burden of guilt,
for I have put around my neck
a garland of delights and glimmers,
never carried into his wild mystery.
Oh, how come birds in and out of the cage!
How can I tune in with Lalon songs
as I see flames of fire burn slow?
Charyapada is a collection of a thousand year-old Bengali mystic songs that Buddhist monks wrote in a kind of "twilight" language.
Mymensingh Ballads are a collective body of rural tales written in verse and often sung among cultured villagers.
Lalon songs are a collection of spiritual and mystical songs that Lalon sung in the eastern part of the undivided Bengal before 1947. There is now a Lalon ashram in Kushtia, a south-west district in Bangladesh.
Poetry by Sofiul Azam
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Written on 2006-08-30 at 16:55
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