Reading Celan at the Liberation War Museum

By Tarfia Faizullah Tarfia Faizullah

—Independence Day Celebration 2011, Dhaka


            i.

In a courtyard, in these stacks of chairs
            before the empty stage—near are
we Lord, near and graspable. Lord,
            accept these humble offerings:

stacks of biscuits wrapped in cellophane,
            stacks of bone in glass: thighbone,
spine. Stacks of white saucers, porcelain
            circles into which stacks of lip-worn

cups slide neat. Jawbone, Lord. Galleries
            of laminated clippings declaring war.
Hands unstack chairs into rows. The dead:
            they still go begging. What for, Lord?

Blunt bayonets, once sharp as wind?
            Moon-pale stacks of clavicle? A hand—


            ii.

Moon-pale stacks of clavicle a hand
            brushes dust from. I lost a word

that was left to me: sister. The wind
             severs through us—we sit, wait

for songs of nation and loss in neat
            long rows below this leaf-green

flag—its red-stitched circle stains
            us blood-bright blossom, stains

us river-silk—I saw you, sister, standing
            in this brilliance—I saw light sawing

through a broken car window, thistling
            us pink—I saw, sister, your bleeding

head, an unfurling shapla flower
            petaling slow across mute water—


            iii.

Petaling slow
                        across mute water,
bows of trawlers
                               skimming nets
of silver fish that ripple
                                        through open
hands that will carve them
                                                  skin-
less. We were hands,
                                      we scooped
the darkness empty. We
                                              are rooted
bodies in rows silent before
                                                    the sparked
blue limbs of dancers
                                       leafing the dark
light indigo, then
                               jasmine alighting
into a cup, then
                             hands overturning
postcards bearing flag
                                         and flower, hands
cradling the replica of a boat,
                                                     hands
thrust there and into
                                             nothingness. You,
a corpse, sister, bathed
                                          jasmine, blue—


            iv.

A corpse: sister, bathed jasmine. Blue,

                                       the light leading me from this gift shop into

a gallery of gray stones: Heartgray puddles,
                          two mouthfuls of silence: the shadow

            cast by the portrait of a raped woman trapped

in a frame, face hidden behind her own black

                            river of hair: photo that a solemn girl

your corpse's age stands still and small


                         before. She asks, Did someone hurt her?

               Did she do something bad? Her mother

                                           does not reply. Her father turns, shudders,

as the light drinks our silences, parched—


                             as I too turn in light, spine-scraped—

you teach you teach your hands to sleep


            v.

you teach you teach your hands to sleep

because her hands can't hold the shape

of a shapla flower cut from its green leaf

because her hands can't hold grief

nor light nor sister     in her hands fistfuls

of her own hair    on her wrists glass bangles

like the one you struggled over your hand

the same hand that slapped a sister's wan

face    look   the young girl stands before

the photo of the young woman who swore

she would not become the old woman

crouched low on a jute mat holding

out to you a bangle    a strange lostness was

bodily present       you came near to living


            vi.

Bodily present, you came near to living,
            Poet, in this small blue dress still stained,

the placard states, with the blood of the child
            crushed dead by a soldier's boot. Who failed

and fails?—nights you couldn't bear the threshed
            sounds of your heart's hard beating. I press

a button: 1971 springs forth: black and white
            bodies marching in pixelated rows. Nights

you resuscitated the Word, sea-overflowed,
            star-overflown. A pixelated woman tied

with a white rope to a black pole, her white
            sari embroidered with mud or blood. Nights

you were the wax to seal what's unwritten
            the screen goes white in downdrifting light.


            vii.

The screen goes white. In downdrifting light,
            the stairwell is a charred tunnel. We walk out
of it into the couttyard—my skirt flares a rent
            into the burnt evening. Something was silent,
something went its way—something gnashes
            inside me, sister—along the yellow gashes
of paint guiding me through these rooms lined
            with glass cases, past machine gun chains

shaped into the word Bangla. Here, on this
            stage, a dancer bows low her limbs
once more before us. The stage goes silent.
            We gather ourselves: souvenirs of bone.

Pray, Lord. We are near. Near are we, Lord—
            in a courtyard, in these stacks of chairs.

Tarfia Faizullah, "Reading Celan at the Liberation War Museum" from Seam. Copyright © 2014 by Tarfia Faizullah.  Reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press.

Source: Seam (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014)

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Poet Tarfia Faizullah

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Living, Love, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Tarfia  Faizullah

Biography

Bangladeshi American poet Tarfia Faizullah grew up in Midland, Texas. She earned an MFA from the Virginia Commonwealth University program in creative writing. Her first book, Seam (2014), won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Focused around a long sequence “Interview with a Birangona,” the book explores the ethics of interviewing as well as the history of the birangona, Bangladeshi women raped by Pakistani . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Love, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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