Three poems by Mohammad Rafiq in Carolyn Brown’s translation

Mohammad Rafique
Translated by Carolyn Brown

From Biskhale Sandhya (2003)


you’ll go tomorrow on the swollen Jamuna
today you were carried back in bundles
from the threshing field—husks stick to your legs
you’re filled inside and out with paddy’s perfume
the paddy has been cut, bound, and stacked
get up, you have to go, the babus are here, since dusk
they’ve been waiting to do business just this one night
move, shameless woman—cutting paddy leaves patches
of stubble on fields by the hundreds, fallow in winter
and summer, bits of straw dry in the sun, molder
then rain falls, spreads, washes away—thundering
head-pounding currents abate, paddy will be planted
to fill the babus’ fields again—paddy ripens, stalks fall
tomorrow morning, you’ll be left here sprawling
but after the processions and fanfare, they say
fields’ worth of ripe paddy piles up in babus’ rooms
while the chaff, lodged in dikes and hollows, counts the days
till it too is cast far and wide by the drunken monsoon

From Mati Kisku (2000)

The Return

this was a long muddy dirt path that day
the nearest station ten or twelve miles off
the moon overhead was perfectly full then
a clump of shadows crept across the fields
the wind carried a single whistle from far away
wheels stuck or kept spinning on their axles
then time limped along ever so slowly until
dawn opens all its doors in wonder at a bird’s call
Tanni Tamal Piya rushes out to mop the courtyard
the first sun’s gaiety bursts forth in all directions—
the tongue can’t get rid of the taste of childhood
the flavor of sweets and cakes fried in oil
perhaps not far away but still a very long ways away—
today that oxcart is still right there
abandoned now, wheels off, falling to pieces
two oxen, not standing but lying down, chew their cud
waiting outside the station grounds
now, of course, it’s not evening, the night’s almost over—
the child returns home after a long journey
today it’s not even very far away
the sound of steady shoveling can be heard clearly
each down-thrust of the spade is heartrending, cruel
where bamboo leaves fall in the unforgiving wind
where all the houses become just one house, just one door
dirt-covered, shapeless, cold—
today there’s no dusty path anymore, it’s paved, smooth
no chance of wheels’ sticking in the mud or coming loose
the day is bright white with the icy sheen of an outstretched shroud
time is leaving the oxcart behind, for a long time

From Matsyagandha (1999)

no distance is very far
in histories, in epics—
from Dhaka to Hostinapur, whether after or before
side by side, lips to lips
the universe in between, crossing
one place to another always surrounded by rising water
even if you grip the boat’s oars firmly
water breaks on the prow with dissatisfied groans, unfailingly the shores
of the great sea crush the ocean in the body, village, stalls, marketplace
even if you climb the fence at that house and pick
flowers in a trance, there are bugs among the petals
poison doesn’t melt in poison, fire doesn’t burn in fire
still, the end is the problem
plays and long journeys don’t end—however short
this story makes all stories clear, the havoc
no ending is unending
constellations, planets, light and fog, broken dinghy
river in between, angry retreating water, mate forever
on the soaked deck

First published in Arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune

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