• Two Poems by Priya Sarukkai Chabria

    December 12, 2016

    (c) M. F. Husain, Untitled / via saffronart.com


    Undetected Bookworm

    Where are your valiant warriors and your priests,
    Where are your hunting parties and your feasts?

                                                    – Abolqasem Ferdowsi

    Shahrukh, grandson of Tamburlaine who
    rode in triumph through Persepolis,  commissioned

    a Shahnama,  a Book of Kings. ‘Inscribe
    in letters of gold the glories of my ancestors.

    Thus let my story too be told.’
    The scribes salaamed. Hunched, they wrote

    again Ferdowsi’s legend
    twisting incident to royal taste.

                                       “Valliant Enemy, again I ask:  unmask thyself,”
                                        Sohrab called over their steeds’ neighing, 

                                        “for through my armour my blood scents
                                        kinship. Vision me thy face before we war.”

                                       “War holds no kinship,” Rustam replied. “Prepare
                                        to die, Warrior.” Thus saying, he charged.

                                       The battle on this day was short. Laid on golden dust
                                       Sohrab said, “Enemy, you have slain me fairly.

                                       I beg you one more favour: Unmask me.
                                       Across my broken neck lies my father’s talisman

                                       that he rained with kisses, then gave
                                       my mother before my birth.

                                       It’s him I’ve sought, and now cannot. Give
                                       him this, I pray. His name is legend.” The hero

                                       Rustam unmasked Sohrab; and found
                                       his talisman.“ Ah, no, no, no, it is mine only son!”

                                       he cried unto desert winds. “O, pity, God, this miserable
                                       age! Had  I but heeded my son’s tender words,

                                       his act, most butcherly, this deadly quarrel that daily
                                       doth beget death and sucks

                                       the Heavens dry might have stopped.
                                       Pardon me, God, I knew not what I did!”

                                       Rustam crumbled like a shell remembering
                                       the oceans course within its shored hollow.

                                       Sorhab sighed. “Three days we fought, Father, for
                                       me each was as Eternity’s Night into whose soft

                                       arms I must now pass. Bemoan me to my Mother. Unto
                                       her say I tried, and lost.”

                                       “Was ever father so bemoaned his son? “ Rustam
                                       asked. “I pity thee, Father, this I do, for in each and

                                       all erroneous killing ’tis the same till Time’s End! Alas, I
                                       who came like thunder promising rain, yare

                                       I vanish like the empty wind.” Thus saying, Sohrab died.
                                       Rustam kissed his son’s curls, raining

                                       tears like milk on the still form. In anguish
                                       Rustam blew his horn, drawing the firmament’s

                                       light into its dark funnel. “I’ll bear thee hence, and let
                                       them fight that will, for I have murdered

                                       where I should not kill.” Rustam cried
                                       and grew in legend as heroes must. 

    He forgot his son and the words he cried – as
    heroes do. Dank Earth holds absence

    in her grasp, chuckling at the victims of Life’s
    battles. ‘Tis no pity, merely sour reality. 

    Thus is Shahrukh remembered — passed
    into legend through dispersed art. For a warrior-king,

    it’s a grave affront!  In Washington, Cairo, London,
    L.A. his scattered folios shimmer in museum light.

    Priya, blind poet, chuckles as she grubs in memory’s
    files. She’s a bookworm, wormwood, deadwood. A run-

    down cinema hall features her death as ‘Next Change’
    for the late night slot. (It’s a silent B-movie with no stars.)



    (c) Francis Newton Souza, 'crucifixion' / via saffronart.com


    War Poems from Babylon and Persia

    Fatima, mother of Sohrab, says:
    I heard the news and rushed
    to my son.

    His arm lay on the street
                               the fingers curled.
    His arm lay on the street 
                               the fingers curled
                               that had touched my breast
                               that had beat his brothers
                               that had loved his wife
                               that had held his child.

    I carried his arm
    as a flagpole
    through the wailing
    streets though his blood dried on me
    and my body dried to the bone.

                 I waved his arm.
                 I asked for my son.

    The soldiers pushed 
    me back into the wall of wailing. 
    I clutched his arm
    though his fingers had clenched
    into a fist of stone.

                on our streets that are littered with fists
                and where mothers turn to stone,
                our curses become wishes
                that will release
    into your unborn children. 
    Your foetuses will squirt out of wombs as pebbles —
    that are not smooth, but pitted.
    Remember this.

    Salma, a pi-dog of Baghdad, says

    Americans are kind.
    They leave blood on the streets
    for us to lick,
    and morsels of human flesh

    to charred clothing.

    They return us to our ancestors:

    Salma’s friend, pi-dog Imrana, says

    You don’t hear and see so well
    ever since the bomb went off in the neighborhood
    dump where you had littered
    six pups,
    one-eyed, one-eared, scar- faced Salma.

    I’ve heard
    the scene of feasting is shifting
    and underground,
    in tunnels long and deep.
    And that the bombers talk in a language
    we can understand, so to speak.
    I’d trot there myself for the spread
    if it weren’t that I lack
    front feet.


    These poems appeared in Not Springtime Yet (2009).

    Priya Sarukkai Chabria is a poet, writer and translator; she edits Poetry at Sangam. www.priyawriting.com

    The poems above are part of our unfolding Citizens against War series of literature and art, initiated in the spirit of listening: to our poets, artists, fellow citizens, against war and warmongering.

    Read more poems by Priya Sarukkai Chabria published in Guftugu here.



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