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Reading Tranströmer in Bangladesh

By Tarfia Faizullah

for Meherunnessa Chowdhury, 1924-2010  


In Grandmother's house,
we are each a room that
must remain locked. Inside
it, a prayer mat carelessly
folded on a low table, as
though hands that once
pressed down on it are not
below ground. Who has
stripped bare the white
walls of the black velvet
tapestry depicting Ka'bah,
house of God? I let in
the netherworld. Something
rose from underneath.
I sit,
wait through my cousin's
sobs. This morning, another
sudden loss: a classmate's
death, she says. Sordid
details flare out like sails
of a ship: mother trapped
in an asylum, father weeping,
son's warm body cradled
in his arms, bone still lodged
in his young throat. To whom
would this not be an inelegant
death--a caught bone, too
much like one of our own?


We leave the city as
we entered it: cloaked
in fog, lightbulbs,
lanterns, blurred gold--
the rumbling traffic
on the highways,
and the silent traffic
of ghosts.
I reach
for my mother's
hand like a child.
Here hang the years . . .
they sleep with folded
Already my
body begins to shed
each jagged dirt road,
bodies jostled inside each
swerving car, trains draped
with bodies dangling
like writhing vines--


The cars, packed tight,
do not move. I saw
the image of an image
of a man coming
. . . sudden
as starlight, he lifts
an arm: mere bone,
wrapped in brown
skin, stem of an iris
rotting in water. He
taps the glass. I close
my eyes, see his arm
trapped in a young
boy's throat. It is still
beautiful to hear the heart,
but often the shadow
seems more real than
the body.
How small
the distance between
the world and the world:
a few layers of muscle
and fat, a sheet wrapped
around a corpse: glass
so easily ground into sand.

Added: Monday, July 7, 2014  /  Originally appeared in The Missouri Review. Used with permission.

Tarfia Faizullah is the author of Seam (SIU, 2014), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems appear in Poetry, jubilat, Ploughshares, New England Review, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright fellowship, and other honors. She is the co-director of Organic Weapon Arts Chapbook Press and Video Series with Jamaal May and is the Nicholas Delbanco Visiting Professor in Poetry at the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program. She lives in Detroit, MI.

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