Shamsur Rahman

                              Into Olive Leaves

Ma, I can tell for certain,
at this very moment,
sitting on your faded velvet prayer rug,
facing the Ka'aba,
you're reciting the Holy Qu'ran.
No one else in the house has gotten out of bed yet,
there's no sound of anyone nearby;
only, an exquisite silence.
Nature is singing the Kalangra.

And I'm now
half lying, half sitting, passing time in a foxhole.
Next to me my automatic rifle is sleeping deeply
like a tall black candle
and to my left lies a man in uniform—
his right leg blown off by a shell.
He can't be touched now—a mere touch
will make his body dissipate like sand.
Those of us who are waiting here
to ambush the enemy, it's as if each of us today
is like a sand statue.
Last night he asked me for a cigarette—
Ma, don't get angry that I told you about the cigarette.
Now I can tell you about many things
without hesitation, what you'll now want to hear;
you'll want to silence me for not being proper.
Now everything has turned upside down within me.

Anyway, as I was saying, yesterday the man
next to me in tunic wanted a cigarette from me
and showed me a photograph of his wife and children
he pulled out of his chest pocket.
That photograph is now lying in the mud,
worms have started tunnelling into his tunic,
his nostrils.
After chasing them away once or twice
I stopped.
Some kind of a scent has spread everywhere like darkness.
Do Azrail's wings have this aroma?
Inside my eyes
inside my chest
inside my bones Life whimpers
and I snarl fiercely at the advancing wings of Azrail.

Ma, I can see
you're sitting in the narrow veranda
with your prayer beads in your hand;
your mind is in the shade of the magnanimous blue sky
and my three-year-old son Tukun
is standing with his hand on your knee,
looking at the dawn birds flying,
your left hand placed on his head.
I remember seeing such an image long ago,
as far as I can remember, in a book about painting.

Ma, in this foxhole, sometimes it feels like
as if I have no dream, no memory, no attachment,
no tomorrow.
Death is here playing the accordion
and whimsically singing away in a croaking voice.
My ghost is walking away
scattering the ashes of my dreams.

I don't know if I'll return to you again;
through the ages, many have not returned,
will never return.
You know, Ma, how odd that at this very moment
I feel nostalgic about the pomegranate tree next to our kitchen,
about the tubewell spot,
about certain markings on the wall of my room.

Ma, it was from you that I had my first lessons.
Let my Tukun have his first alphabet lessons from you.
From now on raise him so he never, even by error,
shoots lead pellets into a flock of birds,
shoots a hole through anyone's chest.
Ask him to look after the olive orchard, Ma,
so that he can weave his dreams into the olive leaves.

                                          --Bengali; trans. Sajed Kamal

Shamsur Rahman, Bengali, trans. Sajed Kamal.