Friday, April 20, 2012

Poem of the Week: Tarfia Faizullah

Tarfia Faizullah 
Reading Tranströmer in Bangladesh       

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
wings. 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
forward . . . 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.

-Tarfia Faizullah         

Used by permission.

Originally appeared in The Missouri Review. 

Tarfia Faizullah's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Passages North, New Ohio Review, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow and a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University's creative writing program, she is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, a Bread Loaf Margaret Bridgman scholarship, a Kenyon Writers Workshop Peter Taylor fellowship, and other honors. She lives in Washington, DC, where she helps edit the Asian American Literary Review and Trans-Portal.  
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