(Translated by Kaiser Haq)
Debouching from the maternal womb
I shriveled up—as if the slimy golden cervix
had expelled me at the foot of an unlit street light
in a terror-stricken city sunk in darkness,
blindfolded by a black-out.
Barbed wire around the park, tents, parading columns
of troops; only the somber glint of artillery
in golden sunlight; startled by stamping feet at reveille
trees and houses take on battlefield hues.
Fettered, huddled in the cold beneath an alien flag
I watched in silence as the glow faded from a lover’s face
and a boy returned, ashen-faced and alone at dusk,
a sodomite sailor’s wild hilarity and obscene song
stuck like a blue feather behind an ear.
In feeble lamplight a dignified old man with a Christ-like face
put up with the soldier’s gift of bread and cigarettes
and the involuntary shriek of a ravished teenage daughter.
A boyhood fraught with sudden murders, screams and carnage
taught me the death spell—how to erase that early lesson?
A radiant bride lay decomposing in a rose garden—
she fell for the wiles of people who were just pawns.
Disguised faces are frothily festive again,
soft-spoken as they sit chatting in evening breeze,
their two-day-old love-strangling assassins’ faces
surreptitiously rolled up into their sleeves,
as if none had pursued a woman, like a bear in heat
down the cold shaft of a well leading to the underworld,
as if a peasant relaxing at sunset hadn’t heard
a bomber’s sudden whistle—a nearby village going up in flames,
as if none had stumbled stale-mouthed amidst alien corn,
lips to the rim of a coffee mug, clutching the photograph
of a hometown park. Beneath my gaze, beside an avenue, a boy
let go his smooth balloon-string in unfamiliar, inscrutable terror
while I, smiling wanly in idiotic lethargy
in mellow sunset mood, mouthed a dark message:
A sense of values and whatever counts as truth
are handmaidens of despair, inducing suicidal urges—
and so it goes, blindman’s buff with life
and I am left penniless, passive, nihilistic;
silently, the horsemen of Apocalypse close in
on the world, and I can only lie insomniac at midnight
in my dark, lonely flat, eyes lit up
like china rose-red danger signals, tremulous
as the needle of a compass.
(Excerpted from Shaheed Quaderi: Selected Poems, presented by Library of Bangladesh and published by Bengal Lights Books in 2018. Reprinted with permission.)