It was my mother’s sad face,
the yellow bird on a neem (margosa)tree,
my little brothers and sisters
sitting at night around a fire
of dry fallen leaves,
the ringing of a bicycle bell—Rabeya, Rabeya—
and the opening of the southern door
at the sound of my mother’s name.
Poetry was wading through a knee-deep river
across a fog-laden path,
the morning call for prayer, or the burning of paddy stalks
after the harvesting, the lovely dark dots of rye
on the plump crust of a homemade country cake,
the smell of fish, a fishing-net spread out
on the courtyard to dry,
and Grandpa’s grave under a cluster of bamboo leaves.
Poetry was an unhappy boy growing up in the forties,
a truant pupil’s furtive attendance at public meetings,
freedom, processions, banners, the piteous story
of a fierce communal riot told by my elder brother,
returning from the holocaust a pauper.
Poetry was a flock of birds on a char (sandy river beds)land,
carefully collected bird’s eggs,
fragrant grass, the runaway calf of a sad-looking
young farm wife,
neat letters on secret writing pads in blue envelopes.
Poetry was Ayesha Akhter of my village school
with her long loose flowing hair.
–Al Mahmud, Bangladesh