Monday
Aug062012

1971

Tarfia Faizullah


 

On March 26, 1971, West Pakistan launched a military operation in East Pakistan against Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia, and armed personnel who were demanding separation of the East from West Pakistan. The war resulted in the secession of East Pakistan, which became the independent nation of Bangladesh. According to Bangladeshi sources, 200,000 women were raped and over 3 million people were killed.

 

i.

In West Texas, oil froths
luxurious from hard ground
while across Bangladesh,

bayoneted women stain
pondwater blossom. Your
mother, age 8, follows

your grandmother down worn
stone steps to the old pond,
waits breathless for her

to finish untwining from
herself the simple cotton
sari & wade alone into green

water—the same color,
your mother thinks, as
a dress she'd like to twirl

the world in. She knows
the strange men joining
them daily for meals mean

her no harm—they look like
her brothers do nights they
jump back over the iron gate,

drenched in the scents of else-
where—only thinner. So thin—
in the distance, thunder,

though the sky reflected
in the water her mother
floats burns bright blue.

 

ii.

Gather these materials:
            
            slivers of wet soap, hair

                        swirling pondwater, black

oil. Amar peet ta duye de na,

            Grandmother says, so Mother

                        palms the pink soap, slides

it between her small hands

            before arcing its jasmine-

                        scented froth across her

back. Gather these materials:

            the afternoon's undrowned

                        ceremonies, the nattering

of cicadas—yes, yes, yes

            Mother watches Grandmother

                        disappear into water: light:

many-leafed, like bits of bomb-

            shell gleaming like rose petals

                        upturned in wet grass, like

the long river in red twilight—O

            mud mother lick me before I die—

 

iii.

1971: the entire world unraveling
like thread your mother pulls &

pulls away from the hem of her
dress. In America, the bodies

of men & women march forward
in protest, rage candling their

voices—in Vietnam, monks
light themselves on fire, learning

too late how easily the body burns—
soon, the men whose stomachs

flinch inward will struggle
the curved blades of their bayonets

into khaki-clad bodies, but for now
they lean against the cool stone

walls of your grandparents' house,
eyes closed as your mother watches

her mother twirl in the pond, longs
to encircle herself in ripples

of light her fingers might
arpeggio across green water—

she loves the small diamond
in her mother's nose, its sunlit

surface glittering like curled,
hot metal she knows falls from

the sky, though not before her eyes.

 

iv.

Why call any of it back? Easy
enough to descend with your

mother, down
                        & down hard
                                                stone steps—how I loved,
she says, to watch her—

                                    yes, reach

                        forward to touch

                                                the sun-ambered softness

of the bright sari Grandmother

            retwines around
                                    her body—yes,

your eyes
            dazzled by the diamond's

many-chambered light
                        —it shined
so, Mother says,
                         though it's not you

            she's speaking to anymore,

                        caught as she is in this reeling
                                                backward—1971
            & a Bangladeshi

woman catches the gaze
                                                of a Pakistani
soldier through rain-curved palm

                        trees—her sari torn
                                                            from her—
she bathed the same
            way each time


—the torn woman curls
                                    into green silence—first, she

would fold her sari,
                        then dive in
—yes,

the earth green
                        with rain, the water,

green—then she would
                                    wash her face
until her nosepin shined, oh,
how it shined

            —his eyes, green—

then she would ask me to wash her back—


                                    the torn woman a helix of blood

 —then she would rub cream into her
beautiful skin—

the soldier buttoning
                        himself back

                                    into khaki—yes, call it
                                                                        back again—

 

v.

But tell me, Mother asks, couldn't
you research the war from here?

Two oceans between you, but
you can see her running a finger

along the granite counter in
the sun-spilled kitchen before
she drives past old West Texas
oil fields bright with bluebells.

Once, in the country of your birth,
you watched Grandmother bathe
while blood was bayoneted across
green pond, green field: women's

bodies were not their own—that
country, Mother, became the veined
geography inside me: another body
inside my own
, you don't say. Gather

these materials, these undrowned
ceremonies: Mother pours milk tea,
sobs. I miss your grandmother so. Open
the door, step out onto the concrete

veranda. Look up: the moon is an ivory
scythe gutting green ponds across which
the reflection of a young girl's braid
ripples. Tell me, you say, about 1971.

Anything you remember. Anything true.