Chittagong Days 1969-1970
[For Altaf, Tapan, and Momen]
Coming down from Railway Hills we pass
diners and stalls, smelling of kebab smoke
and pee on walls, pause at the half-dry
Askar Pond, an old hole where Basho’s frog
would never jump in, but the poor wash clothes
or rusted tin, then turn left up on Surson
Road to greet a palash, climb a gravelly slope
and find before sunset a green feminine place
where rows of jhau with soft needle leaves
sigh for the sea under a streaked sky
as the earth hums softly in orbit.
“God’s pubic hair!” one of us quips
to deflate the bumpkin awe we feel,
pointing at the sky’s mackerel slash.
We read our poems or speak of girls,
Camus, Kazantzakis, fleurs du mal,
and fancy a love-struck song-drunk
youth’s journey, Rimbaudian, rash.
After wading a sleepwalker’s muddy path
of rural stagnation, this was my teen flowering
of sex with a thirst for the European exotic --
Hesse’s Gertrude, a peep scene in Barbusse –
but also mix in the songs of Rabindranath:
Love came in silent footsteps
then left with a clang --
now a distant mirage,
an aching pang.
And think of our day hike in Sitakund:
grey green hills so serenely rising to
a place of myth – a small temple on the
summit. The sacred fell there from a beloved;
her sleek dead body borne by a bereaved god
was cut to pieces by Krishna’s blade.
So pilgrims come to see Parvati hung
more revealed in the air, in light and shade
over a lake of clamoring birds. So touched
by a wild magic, we too had sung:
A sky filled with sun and stars
a world filled with life
I have found a place in all this
So my heart awakes in wonder
But all this would vanish in a glance.
Nature and man would make us see
what should be visible, the impermanence.
The day-end azaan that loudly swept the air
heavy and miasmal with its arrogant flare
had choked up delight in things we think;
we knew even before that terrible war
the time had come to settle and sink
into the brackish and loamy bottom of life.