Early Morning by Mir Mahfuz Ali

Early Morning

Two friends playing with marbles
on the dark smooth ground
under
the soft chin
of a tall shimul tree
long beyond its bloom.
The dust above them
chewing the tree
like a caterpillar.

*

They never asked why
the sudden thunder
of silence
flickering in the tin sky
wrenching the morning.
Komol’s wren-boned body
shook
when Omar nominated
a cat-eyed marble
for the beat of his strength.

*

But he failed to twang anything
heard a heavy engine
humming
the ground below
his bare feet.
Komol’s mood slid
into senseless clay.
A huge military vehicle
laden with troops
ammunitions
hurtling along the narrow street.

*

The army pointed
their heavy guns.
Helmets on the soldiers’ heads varnished
into glazed watermelons.

*

The boys
were speechless,
the morning’s
sudden nightfall on them.
They heard the vehicle coming
to a rapid halt
the thud
of military boots
polished with sun-dew
taking position
behind the brick walls.
A hoarse voice vibrating the air
asking Komol
to give up his mischief
or a thorny shell from his gun
would break his body.

*

Komol shed the world
escaped through the gap in the wall
where the twisting banyan grew
splitting the sharp grains
of the brick fence.

*

Omar hid behind the shimul tree.
Komol fell on the dry ditch
and ran
behind the banana plants clumped together,
convinced
he was now safe,
that the army could not see the perfection
of his husk.

*

Now I am invisible, like the stars in the larkspur sky
he thought.
And he could see
from the thicket of the plantains
the army took cover behind
the walls and the tree stems,
rough, articulate, dense,
craggy with age.

*

A bristly moustache
glistens in the sun.
The soldier nudges a new stanza
in his rifle’s magazine.

*

‘Let them wait for the black ducks
and the great blue heron.
I am going home to my, mum,’
he warned.
The soldier was stroking
the barrel
of his automatic rifle.

*

Komol danced into the house.
His mother sensed trouble:
‘Son, have you just come out
of a shark’s mouth?’
His body swung in powerfully.
Unable to come up with a story
he sat close to his vanilla-smelling mother
breast-feeding
his baby sister.
He could hear
the sucking noise
and the sound of his sister’s breathing.

*

The wide-eyed child
closed her eyes now and then,
as if the lids were too heavy
with cloudberries.
The windows open
on the olive-dove
praising the milk-dust that hung
in the air.

*

Komol touched the soft head
of the baby
felt the fontanel throb
with the strength of her fast –
growing brain
as she nested against his mother,
heard a single crack
of clear crisp sound
breaking that moment
of security
into many questions.

*

The house shook
with the blast,
sparking a hole
in the corrugated tin wall.
Komol heard a noise
snapping flesh
and instantly his mother
slid
from his arms.

*

His sister’s tiny frame lapsed into silence –
her gum still budding
on his mother’s nipple
not wheezing any more,
though her hand was in her mother’s mouth,
taking hold of her last song
to her daughter –
It is all over little one
now her other arm
clutched
at the abrupt emptiness
that hung about her brother.

*

Baby’s milk poised body charred
into a rat-coloured hole.
Smoke rose from it like the loveliness
of thin river-mist.
The thick reek of burned skin
wafted through the window into the wood.
Komol felt the drift of blood
in his feet and hands,
first warm then cold,
found himself wet.
Saw his world slip away from him
like a boat leaving a harbour.
Komol watched his mother’s
shake convulsively come
to a sudden sleep
but he didn’t sense
the length of it or how far
her soul might have gone,
knew he was no longer in her love
as the summer shadows
drop out of the trees.

 

Mir Mahfuz Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1957. He is a performance artist renowned for his extraordinary voice – a rich throaty whisper brought about by a bullet in the throat, courtesy of a Bangladeshi policeman attempting to silence a singing protest. He is a regular reader at literary festivals and theatres and has successfully completed an Advanced Poetry course at Arvon. Mir Mahfuz lives in South London.