At Jhalokati

for Jibanananda Das

It is the same sound I hear in a different time.
People in a friendship with the road, ridden and driven
by the rootless casual cruel gods of the sky.

All they have ever done, in an unobtrusive rhyme
of family down a new page, is to have striven
for wealth of a sort, poetry’s gold, with none to hear their cry.


And the stampeding chariots plough great ruts
in the land, as they collide and kill, and seize
advantage, slide behind, straining to burst apart

the heavens. The friends of the road return to their huts
at night. Each has a god that no-one sees.
Earth sends a shadow over each bruised heart.


What is this savage race? The use of capital,
the advance of power, the status of a word –
but it is more. A self-necessitating frenzy

is how it looks. A shuddering impetus
at core. An atomic nuclear war. A skewed
menu of the mind. Fact devoured by fantasy.


I have come to Jhalokati, to a bundle of small roads,
no more than paths, forest-ways by a stream,
where a poet was born. More than a century later

it is the same sound I hear, a murmuring of countryside gods,
a troupe of trees all in place on the set of an afternoon’s dream,
and a tendril adrift, traipsing over water.


A wild leaf of the small roads, in a friendship with the field,
as a boy you played your part. When Nature’s child
grew up, and went to the city, and saw the trick that’s played,

all Nature wept with him. Her motherhood was revealed
she knew, as fraud. Her son reviled
the first, false gods – but her he always loved and still obeyed.


Hers was no deception. A snarl lay in the signal
before the seed. The world is bound to go wrong.
The transmission of the DNA code is jarred

whether of a nation or an individual.
Mother Nature, he knew, was left to sing her song;
and in her loving guidance he was never on guard.


It is the same sound I hear in a different time.
The first gods, you wrote, in their twisted humour
pass by scattering seeds of beauty over the Earth,

scattering seeds of dreams. A whale-corpse sticky with slime
is all that beauty; a goitrous tumour
sprouts from the heart of a dream. We join in the first gods’ mirth.


Ah Jibanananda dada, as I stand on a small stone bridge
near where your house was, and look up and back and around
at a river’s presence; and hear the sub-history you heard –

the hell of the people who live by the water’s edge,
cruelly steered – bent on their way – into the ground;
and a song of Earth’s fortunate riches, of grass-blade and bird –


“Joe bhai, Joe bhai, do you know the name of the river
before you, behind you, about you?” “I thought the Sugandha – ”
“Not so, not so. Do you know a goddess is near you?

“She is of the Earth, and outside the Earth, for ever.
Before the first gods she lay singing under
all broken dreams. Sing, poet, and she will hear you.”


I turned to my guide. “This river’s name? The Sugandha?”
But already – as he spoke the name – I knew
a signal of the first and deepest beauty.

It winds about the poems of Jibanananda,
the freshest thing, a mortal and goddess too,
a river of his childhood, the Dhansiri.


Again my dada, “Joe bhai, come with me
to the land of stars.” Not a word do they speak,
I remembered a vision in his poetry:

the dream that is wrecked in the blood of reality,
and all that is broken, blind, cold, dead – defenceless, weak,
as red as roses in the land of stars – one day all this will be.

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