Arun Mitra

Image of Arun Mitra


Calcutta draws me in
with a call from way back
drags me from a nameless crowd
to a sudden intense corner,
I return to its stones,
as if along my footprints
the crop-rich soil of Bangla
shudders along its streets,
in its sky I find again
the crowding of shadowy trees
from long ago
tendrils wild flowers
from a tranced afternoon
a distracted scent a distant voice,
my Bangla countryside returns
again and again
to Calcutta.

I had heard weeping in a hut
in the evening or late night
swept by a breeze along the dry riverbed
that has become a sob in the lap of Calcutta,
the lamenting of empty fields piles up
and touches the skyscrapers,
roads and highways begin to sway,
the path from the funeral pyre
has come a hundred miles
to Calcutta.

I had seen the smile of a harvest
on the lips of the old couple,
in the carnival of children
I had seen light,
now it burns fiercely
in Calcutta

One by one
the windows behind me had grown dark
now they light up again
in slums and in penthouses,
I realize the lamp of love
is only the gaze of pain,
the wave which jumped
across fenced land
shook backyards coconut groves
all the time
it stumbled found another resolve
and crashed again in a foam
on the stones of Calcutta

In Calcutta my friends
overwhelm me,
they raise the obscuring curtain
and I drown in their unforgettable words,
they tell me about living,
they make hate intense,
they make anger intense,
they make love intense
and ask me to keep it glowing as a pure flame,
they tell me to burn jealousy in that fire
to throw those little minds like garbage in that fire.
Their gestures draw the future
in lines of brilliant light,
they remove the cover on my memory
and awake the birds from our first mornings
the wayward scent of dawn
flowering vines and water
and our gang running on trails
through the fields and woods of Bangla.

Calcutta comes very near me
I feel it in my veins,
from the Tarai forest to Sagordweep
everything echoes in its voice
and I hear all that in a heartbeat.

[Collected Poems vol 1, p. 95]


This wayward speech as I settle down in that skyscraping apartment the windows doors sofas drapes push me go outside and as I get ready to eat the forks spoons plates bowls helter-skelter chowmein biriyani ice-cream fly over scorched fields collapsed roofs over there, as two eyes seeking love look at me power failure I am blind, this wayward wayward speech chases me like a mad dog.

I have to get out. But where will I go? What soil will give me shelter the mother who will feed me dress me? My foot gets stuck in this crack I stumble on that rock, the wayward shadow shatters into a thousand pieces whispering voices, in the condemned march I move go on go on I burn to a cinder in the fire of my stomach my chest and I search as I burn where is our beggared thirsty homestead.

[ei amrito ei garol ( This Nectar This Venom), p 27]


Even at this age
I am saying to the tree
place the sun on your broken branches
Ha Ha I'm saying to the tree...
It is dark and I'm telling the river
make fairies dance oon your lifeless bed
Ha Ha I'm telling the river...
The earth is cracking in the drought
and I'm walking with feet of blood
if one or two seeds get wet
Ha ha if one or two...
I'm playing drums with bones
on the breast of nature
and like a magician I am shouting
this sound will become a field of rice
crickets night-owls jackals
sift the night with their chorus and refrain
I'm saying a field of rice...
Ha ha ha.

[Collected Poems, vol 2, p 145]


I am sculpting your statue after making half of it breaking it remaking it in the middle of the bone-crushing road your statue I. Hey city-dwellers watch how I with sweat and stone I mold my defeat I knead my love. Morning comes with noise the evening with stealth this interval is terrifying blowing away everything burning up everything put your hand to it again. Grinding against offices and courtrooms inner boudoirs and outer quarters fierce hot dust and gravel lift me up put me down and hammer and file and chisel clank the noon make break make.

[Collected Poems, vol 2, p 98]


I'm grabbing a fistful of white rice
and darkness springs on me
I'm running indoors from
the rumble-grumble fields,
I'm lifting my arms in a storm.

I'm thinking this drizzling breeze is mine
the feathers are mine
weeping willow streamers
mango blossoms are mine
I'm thinking all this while
I'm drowning in a riptide.

I'm placing heartfelt sounds on my lips
so that a thousand ribs can sway
so that blindfolds can drop aside,
all transparent words of course are mine
I'm opening my mouth to scatter them
among my hills parks streetcorners
while jungle claws are sinking into my throat.

Simplicity, to what abyss are you taking me?

[Collected Poems, vol 2, p 106]


Who talks to me about comfort? My days and nights are marked with tiger claws. I think the children are happy, but then as I think of toys gardens raindrops I stumble onto scorched grass. That's time for cooking rice on the stove. But not enough rice grows on this soil to feed the hungry mouths. I try to sit there and say comforting words but my blood becomes ice cold. And those eyes impale me pair by pair. One by one, an endless march.

On the two slats of my chest I hang a welcome to love. The child touches it and slowly rests her head. There's a room full of dreams on her eyelashes, on the turn of her lips. But the wardrums draw near. The more I try to smother them with waves of affection, the more threatening become the bricks of my walls. Sticks fall on my chest, and there is only panic in the sound of my heart.

Who talks to me about comfort? Look Bula how my smiling face suddenly takes the shape of anguish.

[Collected Poems, vol 2, p22]


Everytime it's this home.
The morning smoke spirals upward
the holes in doors and windows gasp,
the mother's tearful face on coals,
pots and pans stark empty.
Right in front the wet dust in the street,
it's hard to tell whether it rained last night
or it is blood.

The kids fell asleep listening to stories,
now they rub their eyes to find
there's no fairyland
no wind to take them away
and if they try to stand up
their heads bang against the black sky
their eyes burn their guts burn
Do they live inside bellows?

A sound rises to the top.
Is it from the ocean? From a storm?
From the wailing of many voices?
It keeps rising,
and yet on trees leaves do not move
the smoke circles as it always does,
only the mother lifts her tearful face for a moment
and the kids peek outside again and again.

[Collected Poems, vol 2, p 25]


[Collected Poems, vol 2, p 48]

When I look back
a lot of savage nights
a lot of fire from bright days
and once in a while a sliver of the moon
or fresh sunlight on a few leaves.
The call I hear behind me
comes from even farther away.
There the source of my birth,
the light to which my eyes opened
spread over a cool skin,
I have put my chest on it
and I have seen my mother's secret smile.

I haven't found any reckless waterfall,
I haven't seen the brilliance of any ore,
For me there was the soft clay of love
and there was a melancholy pond,
I used to sit by it in the afternoon,
and throw stones toward the middle,
the circle of rippling water got larger
and larger until it spilled over my day.

I hear a call behind me
I leave the shade of berries
and enter a larger tenderness,
the beginning and the end of the earth
comes around to this yard,
the sun takes its leave
when will the moon rise?
I keep looking at a smiling face.

I listen to a call behind me
and that circle of water gets larger
spilling over me and all these years
across the flame of noon
past howling nights.


I have walked so long this is endless,
there was a paved road ready for a brisk pace
there was applause in the air
and I knew as I looked at the leaves turning color
there would be merriment at the rest stops.

But the horizon where I fixed my gaze
remained where it was-- in darkness
and the road became longer and longer
like a serpent ready to swallow the earth.

How long can I wander on this road?
I have been walking and walking for ever
not a single glow caresses me
or my ground.
Does that mean the path to dawn
rests on the thornbush?

[Collected Poems, vol 2, p 160]


As I got near the sharpened hoop I stumbled headlong jagged steel clanging all the time but when the heat melts to the ground then cool men with arms and legs rock back and forth roll around in alleys pimping. I went nearby and heard a whirling sound the universe I am turning upside down clanging let the eyes burn if they will look heaven and earth and hell from top to bottom from bottom to top clank clank, and dissolved and up again arms and legs minister bureaucrat bigboss littleboss guys babes stuck together crawling. I'm shooting a documentary look I keep shooting.

[Collected Poems, vol 2, P 150]


Palms up I put my hands on the table of the degenerate clerk and I watch who knows how long 'cause there's very little time and hours minutes are falling off I watch the pious smile spreading across the wall like the dry petals on the floor although the ball of thread ah ha admiration esteem they hang up quite high and abundant blessings scatter on our heads very abundant here in our neighborhood, where is an opening I'm looking toward the crack so that I can breathe yes a crack in the wall right next to the picture, there sun and rain splash night and day crops from far away fields sparkle and heigh ho all the storms of the world tremble there.

[Collected Poems, vol 2, p 150]

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