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Sofiul Azam

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Sherpur Town, Bangladesh

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A JEW AMONG THE WOLVES

by

Sofiul Azam

Homage to Nissim Ezekiel 1924-2004

1.

The newspapers! Sir, they are the most villainous,
licentious, abominable, infernal; why should they be?
No, I make it a rule never to look into a newspaper.
Yet I found your obituary notice therein & thought:
a man worthy of praise the Muse forbids to die.

We see stars appear as the sky is clad in darkness;
‘a mugging Jew among the wolves,’ yet you shone
like a star to illuminate your allotted dark patch.
Now that’s burnt out like a candle that gave light
to shine beyond the mouthhole of a dark abyss.

It’s quietude through whose veins we reach you;
yet it’s speech through which a recluse gets purified,
the recluse ignored ‘streams of common passion,’
admitted ‘illusions cast into the mindless streams.’
You chose to shine up to ‘the company of spiders.’

You sought ‘a humane balance humanly acquired’
and never wanted to be ‘isolated in Man’s defeat’
and unlike yogis saw things as they are, it’s a habit,
and lighted the cold abyss of darkness with care
and formulated that the wise cash in on storms.

In silence ‘churning the springs of unborn songs’
and feeling ‘the wind’ in whose heart fire did rest,
you waited for words like ‘the best poets’ or lovers,
busy tracking meanings out of mirages & illusions.
It seems we buy knowledge with our placidness.

You denied hollowness sheared of any esotericism,
watched out for balloons bulging to burst out into air.
All the inner and the outer storms had shattered you,
unlike idlers you rebuilt the castle of your heart;
no matter how the charms of anxiety plagued you.

Perhaps your place whose view seared your eyes,
will mourn you till the world’s end; your doing
‘something for India’ is a good show of gratitude.
Wolves may celebrate your demise with Lights Out!

We ‘rascals’ keep lighting candles in your honour.

2.

In Bombay you lived, winning & losing your life;
your eyes longed for the place wherever you went,
the grass growing between Bombay’s pavement tiles.
Here lies a poet whose theme was human failure -
you’re praised in a dozen noted obituaries indeed!

Having tasted the variety of things, uncertainties,
you have flown to your apointed end, venerating
the rootedness in ‘the liberties of mind,’ fearing
the chase of cash and idlers’ knowledge, holding
your own sanity hard ‘against the thieves of time.’

You have fallen into a place whence you can’t rise;
your friends & fans will visit the grave where you lie;
it’s a time to change, a time to act & contemplate:
alas, without you for thousands of years indeed,
‘The Rose will blossom and the Spring will bloom.’

Horrors are less remote. Like a shipwrecked sailor
you reached ‘the obvious shore beyond the sea;’
the Death Express trampled you under its wheels.
Black canopies will be thrust upon different skies,
and mere tears will pour down from eye-sockets.

Yes, this planet harbours a stock of wild paradoxes,
‘embrace & be embraced by the silence of the place.’
Whether groping among giant nightmares or not,
everybody’s lived in this world to ‘see and be seen,’
after coming out of the prison of his own making.
+
I myself lounged in an impasse of my choosing,
too felt ‘there’s no harder prison than writing verse.’
Exile made you a citizen of a language of poetry.
Have you gained much in losing what not in life?
Life’s a curlicue that still mocks our destinations.

Ezekiel, you’re a ‘reluctant creature of a solitude’
whose poems ‘haunt the human night,’ marking
a thousand intricacies of heart & brain well-visited.
You rode your ‘elephant of thought’ everywhere;
now my generation riding motorbikes of thought!

3.

In the dusty office at the Indian P. E. N. you sat;
young wordsmiths swam in the frothy procreative sea!
now the grown-ups in different walks of life prowl
and smell the stench of emptiness spread around.
Dark silhouettes need nothing to repeat but grief.

Flowing into the night, you whispered: it happens -
from boredom to a revelation is only one small leap.
If only you prepare for it, it happens. Be graceful.
The dimensions of your grace are above my thoughts.
You did fly with your ‘single wing of imagination.’

At Grandpa’s farmhouse in monsoon I listened
to the rain pattering on its old corrugated tin-roof,
and saw lightnings tear the night-sky into shreds.
I’m glad you listened to the nightlong rain as I did.
A sort of encounter with nature meets the eye.

Your mouth spat out words bopping wild in the air;
still in those warlocks’ ears your music lingers.
Winds don’t cease scaring quivering candlewicks.
Perhaps South Asia will keep your wicks flaming,
despite the winds’ crudities reaching everywhere.

Perhaps you might have hawked at street corners
herbs for sale and died unmarked, unknown, a failure.
Now you ain’t a failure, that's your career & triumph.
Never in our borne life can we hope to do such work.
Your name will live in the hearts of your people.

In the case of fame’s longevity as in uncertainties,
all this ain’t aegri somnia nor am I anguis in herba.
Fair shares of wreckage for all is the Death Party’s call.
You bettered your postures to make poetry palpable;
and stayed ‘awake to get some more work done.’

Dear, whatever you did with dreams ain’t in vain;
you trained yourself to ‘recognise the real thing,’
your ‘agitations of the mind’ merge into a meaning:
all these put down on pages will live to the future,
unlike lines written on the beach at Cox’s Bazar.


CONCORDIA DISCORS, CUI BONO?

by

Sofiul Azam

Cedant arma togae, concedant laurea laudi.
- Marcus Tullius Cicero from De Officiis

1. THE REST NOWHERE

Let’s watch frecks turn up at every conference hall
to know what ‘war on terrorism’ brings in the offing
and crash as cars often do on the hilly passageways.
Confreres scream: "Eclipse first, the rest nowhere.

"Sob, heavy world: Roma locuta est; causa finita est.
Oh, our leaders are pimps whose love’s far to seek.
Forced to find the stench off hyenas pretty blamy,
and believe each day that has dawned is our last,

"yet we won’t cut our conscience to fit their rage,
right now more ready to not stop dead in our track
than see the whole lot of Pascal’s reeds in scare:
arsonist networks, threats, explosives, anthrax etc."

Montroses come from the prison to the scaffold.

2. THE FINEST FARCE

Sir, I think the weather of diplomacy fines up!
invaders talk of liberty to be given to the invaded;
and this ceaseless talk smells sour, prove that I lie.
Yes, on the battlefields is this farce being staged.

Let me talk to a chap who’s still at the crossroads:
back home, first change into trousers and the vest,
splash your face with water and switch on your TV;
now tell me, dear fellow, if you see on the screen

anything but skeletons still crusty with burnt flesh
or buildings broken like sandcastles on the beach
or overcast skies rent by long cries in the gloom.
Is this gallant Mr. Perdition living with Miss Chief?

I just sympathize with those civilians who scream:
there is no neutral thing like blood, nor any trick as war;
yes, for the riches of some greedy countries we morons suffer,
and agree that the Strong shall thrive and the Weak perish,
all invaders can’t ever counteract our stark grief by grace;

when’ll we be brisk about the life cropping out of the ruins?
Tell why we are thrust into this world for the jaws of misery
which we can’t gratify with anything else but ourselves?
By Gothic Horror Harbour I sat down and wept:

I’d got nothing but photographs of the catastrophe
(the octopus from whose tentacles none escapes)
and of the lunatics wallowing on burning tyres.
Days glide swiftly on as dirty worms in a drain,

their swiftness none counteracts by glaring eyes.
Cry, my beloved heart: without tears you can’t have
grace more longed for than this dose of naivety.
The butchers have taken charge of the Sanatoria.

3. THE EMBALMERS’ ART

Centuries are nothing but chronicles of wreckage.
Asked by German soldiers in his Parisian studio
if he painted the bomb-shattered city in Spain,
Picasso replied, ‘No, you humble Germans did.’

Now get ready to flee your city and never return:
somewhere in an art-gallery you’ll see pictures of it
and nightmares cropping out of the hoary ruins.
All artists feast on the remains of nightmares.

Things have changed since I burst out of infancy
to see nightmares bloom like flowers on the ruins.
Cluster bombs are no drizzle on the grassfield,
Rather chronicles of suffering and embalmers’ art.

Each negative value has its price in positive terms.
Strange that the fraudheads speak the nicest words,
vows with so much spirit, swears with so much grace.
I am glad of a triumph of all the embalmers’ art!

Last summer I heard whispers of further wreckage,
I can’t laugh away the whispers sharp as needles,
nor comfortably stay in my den where TV shows
how the whispers come true, piling on the agony.

Yes, everywhere I see the frenzy of nightmares.
Lamps go out, and generation to corruption turns;
Do you think of us as certified insane to agree
that the Strong shall thrive and the Weak perish?

You know why artists grope for solid nightmares;
what’s the good of nightmares if I ain’t with them?
I keep writing on the turmoil in our blaring bush,
hope that I will succeed by the sweat of my brow.

Is it Progress if I think art and war are inseparable?

A FRANKER’S JOURNAL

by

Sofiul Azam

1.
Through my half-open windows seasons come and go;
I feel like Pound at St. Elizabeth’s - certified insane.
Not to mince matters nor one’s talk about the dreams
that this world gives out of its sheer philanthropy,

I remember my heart never glittered like drops of water
even as I looked at golden corn swaying in the wind;
no birds’ twittering but only metallic clangs everywhere.
Oh! I envy those pigs wallowing together in the sty.

Somewhere at a long stretch of time I remember
driving down the street to stay in another city’s hotel,
I felt loneliness as in the dry barren fields of a desert.
Just to find solace, I have ransacked metaphysics

and then known flat denial of unrest ain’t worth the pain
that I suffer as loneliness pierces my ‘lukewarm’ heart
like icicles from arctic cliffs fall upon the North sea.
Nothing fights back the tough strains of it in the crowd.

Reading this journal means - you may have to retch:
my moments stink as corpses in the charnel house,
I’d have nullified the stench had I got Persian perfume.
I have seen nauseous serpents slip out of Time’s cunt.

2.

As my palace of glass is broken by the hurling of stones,
I stand with the devil’s progeny rotting in the gutter,
nothing in this world of filth and horror so troubles my retina
as a lot of history’s ghosts pestering us to sing a lullaby.

Now that I have enough of grief and grace, I think
servitude to history stinks as damp clothes in the loft,
its need - a sack of cotton getting heavier in the wet.
The catalogue of horrors I have seen stretches to miles.

I pluck voices from the ether as if tropical mangoes
and just as before, listen to the filthy cunt-ticklers’ grin
that life should start in a whimper and end in a cry.
Regrets just as easily melt like strawberry cream ices.

3.

All through the night when stars can’t light up the sky
I give in to dark impulses as worms feasting on a corpse;
I wonder why colours fade away into the dazzling dark
and darkness soaks gleams of light like a blotting paper.

My dreams are what lords of life treat as goddamn filthy,
and hopes scuttle away as from horror’s wolfish claws;
my nightmares honk as sirens to black out the night,
these never will start browning like dry leaves in fall.

4.

I feel like Nostradamus closer to his language of truth,
the delicate astrologer with his vision of horrors in the attic,
the wounds that his visions here inscribed on white pages
leave on my psyche are all that crusty and never heal;

like Picasso painting miseries on the tightened canvas,
screaming in grief paints shades of black on the dead air;
like Aragon groaning to see the loss of lives everywhere,
the wish to master the art of conjuring with the dead.

Guns’ lullaby charms Plato’s republic, scoundrels think:
missiles are a kind of insecticide for Time’s wormy cunt,
smoke blooms like mushrooms against every city’s skyline,
rotting corpses make a philosophy of filth and horror.

Guns’ mouths are gaping at kids singing carols of love,
History breaks bridges, propagates fear; I remember
Michelle’s grandpa’s frown - a baptized Jew’s still a Jew.
Puppets that we have become in the scoundrels’ hands!

Homo Sapiens - a dish of delicacy to hungry gun-barrels.
We fools hesitate, the usual prey to Wisdom’s teeth,
and gape as apes whose ‘stoic lethargy’ is a stone knife,
useless in this age of monstrous machines. Vulnerable

the idea of grand speech seasoned with obstinate bliss;
measured the guns’ stuttering against the rising decibels
heating us into rage, not cleansed by the shower of sense,
then at best the perfection of life yields to that of art.

So calm once the pasture at Grandpa’s farmhouse; blood -
as I write about that old greenery - pours on this page.
I wonder why every poem becomes an elegy of mourning;
and why metaphors of grief breed as in a chain reaction.

5.

From the archives of echoes from distant lands
I bring to light undeveloped negatives of the dead
and their early promise in life’s turgid drama â€"
all stellified phrases in the firmament of history.

I stumble upon works of art crowding my void
as if I have sailed away into a Newfoundland;
out of the ash-pit of their promises Phoenixes come
to drive industrial clangs and fumes off the sky.

Pushed against despair, I see like a visionary:
nightmares cross the Styx, then become dreams,
the nightmares that came like a bolt from the blue
when I was forced into the devil’s slippery world.

Not thoughts into a shawl for mercantile use,
once again I weave words into a purple wreath.
And fragrance tickling my nostrils feels like grace
when my heart’s chilled into a wish for beauty.

Then all earth’s but one purple wreath to wear,
no stench off rubbish feeds upon all entrails
nor weeping tears for all that’s gone with the wind;
for I have bathed in the brightening sunshine.

Out of these staining the mind’s empty slate
it seems my lexicon fills with words of surprise,
my moments are graced to be in history’s locker,
minutes are pearls, not oceanic perils at work.

Then all these moments of grace scuttle away.
The wisemen say that happiness shivers with fear
as the whirlwind replaces dreams with nightmares,
piling thousand-fold torment on dreaming fools.

Nothing remains but this heavy burden of grief
for just another Sisyphus hard-pressed by destiny.
Before I wait for the crystals to come into my eyes
my rational mind suggests I buy tissue papers.

Caught in the labyrinth of no return, I stamp
my feet on the shifting sand to hear incorrigible
music in the dead air: it seems like my last carnival
before sinking down into some bottomless pit.

COMÉDIE HUMAINE, N’EST - CE PAS?

by

Sofiul Azam

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt. - The Bible

1.

Yeah, our life is fog that turns up for a little time
and fades away as the sun spits fireballs out in the sky.
Days pass swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.
We all pass days as filthy rags and fade as leaves in Fall
and watch no ladder set up on the earth to climb.

To what purpose is this seeking rest among thorns like Christ’s,
or that walking through graveyards full of dead men’s bones?

Miserable comforters are we all loosing
the bands of wickedness, gathering
the pearls cast before swine, trembling
like grasshoppers as giants spy out this heartland, restoring
the old dreams long ravaged in the hands of spoilers,
O generation of vipers!
Imagine blind leaders leading the blind into the ditch.
Imagine those swine wise as serpents will ran
down an escarpment into the sea, and perish in the waters.
Darkness thickens on the face of the waters and the earth;
a dread of colossal darkness lengthens upon us all.

I wish to break every yoke fastened over our necks.

2.

Behold, we stand at the door of swine and knock
and bow at the names of swine eating the fat of the land.
Vengeance is theirs. Our end is bitter as wormwood. We jump
into the sea of glass mingled with fire and don’t die:
the gates of Death are shut for us poor screechers;
Death elusive as fortune never falls as towers of Babylon.

How long should the swine eat the fat of the land? Tell me, Brethren.
Come down at the bottom of the stairs, O Liberty; Come straightaway.

Christ being raised from the dead died no more;
death had no more dominion over him.
Rush to give light to those trapped in the shadow of death.
Liberty’s nearer than when we believed, minding
no high things in newness of life, casting
off the works of light with hands of darkness, putting
on in broad daylight the armour of darkness.

Rise, take up your bed, and walk; search your heart.
A little romance can work miracles; think like swifties.
We measured light of equal spread in every way,
and bridged our discrepancies with the salt of our sweat.
Like Sheba to Solomon she whispered into my ears,
‘Touch me not unless you put up your pistol into the holster.’
Like a bundle of myrrh I lied all night between her breasts.
I love to think of her twin roes that feed among the lilies.

‘Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.’

3.

Things are never done decently and in order.
After setting my affection on paltry things on the earth,
I found myself musing on a jet in a green oasis;
and my dreaming being over,
I found all my fantasies scattered on the filthy plains
and no land flowing with milk and honey
and things disappeared as in the waste howling wilderness.
As a shield to stop all the fiery darts of the wicked,
I preach among the bespectacled scholars:
much study is a weariness of the flesh;
a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.

I myself tread woodland paths like a castaway, acquainted with griefs.
I have been in perils of the besieged cities that warred against evil.

Broken glasses are strewn on the carpet;
I have cast out of my sight purple blossoms instead!
and have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.
Who puts things of many colours in a bag with holes?
Who takes the bread of adversity and the waters of affliction?
Who has ever seen sorrow and sighing flee away?

The Scriptures disgorge truths:
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing_
and there is no new thing under the sun.

Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?
I have walked in darkness, in perils of the besieged cities
and seen shades of darkness, which must be felt by the unsighted.

Yeah, without shedding of tears is no remission hoped for.