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Patrimony: A poem

  • Published at 09:22 am August 10th, 2019
Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

Shaheed Quaderi's poem 'Uttaradhikar' in Kaiser Haq's translation

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.)  

Kaiser Haq is a renowned poet, essayist and translator. 

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