Ishrat Afreen

(25 December 1956 / Karachi / Pakistan)

The Dance - Poem by Ishrat Afreen

The silence
now nags,
and loneliness
Chirrups on the rooftop
Sitting weary on the broken back stairs
Of my ancestral house,
I count down the centuries.
The red and white stone house
Now melts,
Dripping on me.
All lamps on desire-niches are extinguished.
Only a few leafs lie open in the book of the past,
That I guard for the ambassador of the night;
They rot in the wetness of the passage of time:
Not a single word will survive.
All ideals burn,
And a strange scene emerges
In the light of the flames.
A cold open-sided room,
And verandahs beyond.
A vast desolate courtyard,
Long entrance halls,
And a huge enclosure.
All around me,
Eerie dancing shadows dart in every direction.
They are all the slaves and bonded servants of my ancestors:
Like a million spirits crying in unison.
What is this peel of ankle bells
Raining in the verandahs?
Who plays the harp
And cries bloody tears from shapely fingers?
The sound of the harp stings my soul.
Behind all this,
Whose spirit waits in agony in private chambers?
She is the same woman,
For a kiss of whose eyes
Stars would cry themselves to sleep.
Behind the veil of the night,
Whom is she calling to her bedchamber?
To whom is she showing her tears?
In the well of this huge enclosure,
What are those cries of maidens,
That have been imprisoned for three generations?
They flutter for freedom.
Who coughs in the entrance hall?
Who is this hungry, weak child,
That has cried himself to sleep
In front of the grain-house?
Who is this cowering girl
Crying in the darkness?
And this old man in a corner
Crying tears of blood,
Hiding himself from all the souls,
And trembling like a leaf?
The terrifying crop of my ancestors' fertile land,
Blooming beyond the window,
Makes a strange spectacle.
These houses,
These mansions:
Centres of generosity and charity!
Institutions of oppression and tyranny!!
All slaves and bonded servants, now dance here.

[Translated by Baidar Bakht and Marie-Anne Erki ]


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Poem Submitted: Monday, April 9, 2012



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