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Poems by Mohammad Rafiq: III

Translated from Bengali by

Prasenjit Gupta




covered by an instant’s nakedness.  the drum-roll of mid-monsoon rain.

                  primal sound rumbles up from Omkarnath’s[1] throat.

                  Ramkinkar’s Santhal family.[2]  stillness, motion.

in the primal touch of skin, the stretching of sun and moon.  stars and soil.

                  evading the hunter’s net, the fish in a splash of froth

                  diving deeper into the water.

                  the sparrow’s young pecking food at her beak.

butterflies along the house wall, tangled in their desire for union.

                  suddenly, smiling teeth in the dark.

                  from Joyonul’s paintings the fragrance of rice paddies comes flying,

                  spreading color and air.  overflowing the chest, a blood-tide of base

the Padma’s terrible current.  in every field the cow’s breath-broken lowing.

                  painted Bengal’s sky, clouds, sunlight.

                  all along the water, the flying coastline.  waves shaped like wheels.

every space filled with atoms.  atom and space, bound in explosive embrace.  space
                                                                                                      and atom.

                  that dread dark of the tidal wave.

                  in every blink, in every hundredth of a dropping eyelid, a blessing.

in an instant’s nakedness, release, frenzy, millions upon millions breaking through;

                  just one human kiss.

                  staying and resisting seek their language.

a chestful of contentment



oh the girl’s tresses unloose themselves,

her clothes fly away,

in the flame-orange of her body comes the dawn,

in the beckon of her enchanting smile the morning follows.

the farmer with plough and yoke on his shoulder

walks the ridges of his field


the daughters gone the sons gone the cows gone the land gone

only their mother remains


pour the water, oh golden maiden, put your mind to the water

fetch the pitcher winnow the grain wash the floor serve the rice

oh she’s used up her body, she can move no more

her flesh comes off her bones, her eyes from her head, her hands from her arms


at sunset this wounded woman’s shadow sticks to the mat.


the farmer, shrinking within himself

in the husk and ashes of his dreams, roasting all night in the vapors of his burnt youth


and stuck to the pot of jaggery, the corpse of a dead ant




at every instant, this possibility remains:


instead of one footfall, another footfall.

to jump the fence of a particular simile, metaphor, or symbol

and find some other unknown style, meter, or tempo.


instead of one poem, another poem.


instead of one touch, another touch,

in the shadow of a sharpened knife, other comings and goings.

familiar words, exhalations and inhalations, ardor and aversion, deception.


in one kiss, the edge of another kiss.

in one body, another’s red death in fire and decay.







you forgot everything

so easily


me, a dry broken branch


you, like an able housewife

feeding it to the oven’s flame


watching it burn, watching the cinders

you sighed with content


you forgot everything

so easily





brushing the lap

of your courtyard

the coy branch of the shojna

overspread with flowers


with the rocking of the gentle air

they’d scatter on the ground


i couldn’t have known


or this pillage

would never have been so deadly


forgive me





see that hawk flying alone in the long sky

that one hawk alone, in it the whole sky

a deserted field and on its breast one man alone

one man alone, in his breast a desolate field

the sunlight trembles

i’ll go on like this

with each other near

with each other far away very very far away





over your face the shadows of the sickly evening fall.

moist shadows; the boat lies nestling the bank

unused forsaken in the gentle cold the track across the field

the slow water its thin lazy waves

breaking in the evening     a thin dim series slowing and dissolving

the twilight deepening in love joins its hands

in strong entreaty, surrounds you in the memory of a kiss

fear clings to the length of the body     fear settles

eerily over your face     the shadows gradually fall

some light some darkness     some known and some unknown


the boat lies there nestling the bank alone

of generations gone



just inside the courtyard, on the left an ancient guava tree,

planted by father’s father-in-law; on the north side the kitchen,

after four monsoons slanted completely eastward;

the white faces of three widows, an oil-lamp burning in the dark;


on that night the call of high tide in the Arial Khan’s waters,[3]

on the bamboo fence two spears, a hatchet, a cleaver,

sparkling, sleepless; in waiting the night lengthens;

with its drenched enraged breath, like a lifting rib a sandbar rises


the tug of primal mystery, of the current’s black muscle;

tell me you won’t go when the headman calls next,

swear it; why risk your lives;

tearing at the dark, the white teeth of strange laughter,


clutching their wives chest to chest; the sun’s red spurting

from the spear’s wound, that flaming pain you won’t understand, dear;

from their land the three men leap and bound away,

in the same way father went, grandfather went, of generations gone


in the blood-clotted darkness the lamp flickers,

on the bamboo fence hang the rusted spears, the cleaver;

three widows’ faces with their ebbtide gaze, listening to

the Arial Khan in the dark, sand-rib rising with its breath


[1]A classical singer

[2]Ramkinkar, a sculptor from an aboriginal Indian tribe, the Santhals

[3]The Arial Khan is a mythical river of blood and courage, and also an actual river identified with the cycle of death and regeneration

Translated by Prasenjit Gupta [Proshenjit Gupto ]. Prasenjit Gupta is a translator and writer .... (more)

Illustrated by Nilanjana Basu. Nilanjana has been regularly illustrating for Parabaas. She is currently based in California.

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* To learn more about the ITRANS script for Bengali, click here .

©Parabaas, 2009