Jayanta Mahapatra

22 October 1928 - / Cuttack / India


The yellowed diary's notes whisper in vernacular.
They sound the forgotten posture,
the cramped cry that forces me to hear that voice.
Now I stumble back in your black-paged wake.

No uneasy stir of cloud
darkened the white skies of your day; the silence
of dust grazed in the long afterniin sun, ruling
the cracked fallow earth, ate into the laughter of your flesh.

For you it was the hardest question of all.
Dead, empty tress stood by the dragging river,
past your weakened body, flailing against your sleep.
You thought of the way the jackals moved, to move.

Did you hear the young tamarind leaves rustle
in the cold mean nights of your belly? Did you see
your own death? Watch it tear at your cries,
break them into fits of unnatural laughter?

How old were you? Hunted, you turned coward and ran,
the real animal in you plunigng through your bone.
You left your family behind, the buried things,
the precious clod that praised the quality of a god.

The impersihable that swung your broken body,
turned it inside out? What did faith matter?
What Hindu world so ancient and true for you to hold?
Uneasily you dreamed toward the center of your web.

The separate life let you survive, while perhaps
the one you left wept in the blur of your heart.
Now in a night of sleep and taunting rain
My son and I speak of that famine nameless as snow.

A conscience of years is between us. He is young.
The whirls of glory are breaking down for him before me.
Does he think of the past as a loss we have lived, our own?
Out of silence we look back now at what we do not know.

There is a dawn waiting beside us, whose signs
are a hundred odd years away from you, Grandfather.
You are an invisible piece on a board
Whose move has made our children grow, to know us,

carrying us deep where our voices lapse into silence.
We wish we knew you more.
We wish we knew what it was to be, against dying,
to know the dignity

that had to be earned dangerously,
your last chance that was blindly terrifying, so unfair.
We wish we had not to wake up with our smiles
in the middle of some social order.
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