Thursday, October 22, 2009

To Jibanananda Das

The great Bengali poet, born 100 years ago this year, left the earth 55 years ago today. Since translating him is beyond my abilities (A.H. Jaffor Ullah has done some fine translations here, here and here), a poem written in his style will have to suffice.

It is not what is inside of me but what is not—ha!—nothing!
This lifetime is not less futile for being remembered.
There's a clarity of grey when the sun goes down,
when all that is forgotten gets included—
before time disappears with all the lights it held in trust
for sunset's glow.

Faced with this, all I think of—is your hair,
the way it followed me, from Ankara to Suriname,
exposing all along the way: the cinnamon trees,
the feet clay-colored, the kameez's of indigo silk,
the yellow smoke, the buddhas reclining, reading the koran,
as just myths to be mocked, the way it blew without direction.

No wonder you are God and still a human—
to show me good and evil can't be known.
The ants that fly like tennis balls in the sun,
and the birds, beaks like batons, that blossoms melt,
tell me all I need to know about all that.

You teach me how I can't forget
what I will never know.