The Paddle Steamer & Other Poems

by Iftekhar Sayeed

The Paddle Steamer

Watching moon-rise over Meghna from the steamer’s deck
And in twilight the disappearing paddles’ wake,
As the gibbous form transcends the lesser lights below
Of the port of Chandpur and the bourneless waters glow

Like quicksilver, self dissolves in substance, wealth
Comes no more in coins, but swishing calm, the stealth
Of waves beneath the hull; the enriching powers
Have grown generous with every hour of ours!

When the eerie fingers of the wind lift the curtain
To reveal the mynas chattering uncertain
Syllables, the minted moment knows
There’s no treasure to requite what it bestows!

Monsoon frogs, vociferous with hope, belie
The unashamed, unpromising nudity of sky
Sensuous with stars; the crickets still insist
And the absent human voices don’t resist

There’s a fact of fortune in the rain-trees’ silhouettes
That the arc-lights of Mongla port offsets
In the distant north; from the river Poshur’s edge
There’s no sound but chug of motor-boats to drive a wedge,
Soft, sporadic, between reflection and experience –
Nights of reams of hyphenated pages of sense.

The wind sweeps through the gazebo in the heat of hills;
You can see as far as ambition wills
Following the contours and the paths that wind:
All straight lines have been curved for the ambitionless mind!

Meanwhile, aboard the P.S. Mahsud, you listen, dear,
To jazz pouring from discman into your ear;
“Cry me a river” sings Julie London to you
Or Lady Day about a devil called love; whew!

The heartbreak of jazz becomes evident to us
Floating across the first class deck without a fuss;
Generations of songsters sang and saw
This moon and quicksilver that rivet us with awe.

 

Youth

Guys were interested

“Always are”, she said

She had classes, friends

Told them to drop dead

She looked forward to

Only a few things

Family afternoons

Romantic evenings

Beds are made for making love

And for lying in, or dying

 

He was reputed

Not for having fun

But for highest grades

In that year of town

Sometimes he made plans

About a home and wife

In the affluence

Of successful life

Beds are made for making love

And for lying in, or dying

 

They are married now

Sweet with their two kids

When he goes to work

She fulfils her needs

Making love to strangers

With unmentioned names

She doesn’t give a damn

If he’s playing games

Beds are made for making love

And for lying in, or dying

Swans

“All swans are white” believed white Europeans
Until they stumbled on black swans down under!
How embarrassing to have discovered
That Australian aborigines
Had always known about these ebony
Deviations from parliamentary
Legislation! Who would have thought there could
Be any other kind of lawmaker?
Yet there were, and are, compensations for
The pallid northerners who conquered us.
We have adopted, by and large, their ways
Of making laws, selecting lawgivers
Who, like them, inflict violence on us:
For we maintain it true today “All whites are swans”.

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