“On the Way” Poem by Afeed Areifiz

Areifiz Illustration Michelle Nguyen
Illustration by Michelle Nguyen

On the Way

Poetry by Afeed Areifiz

You know what I grew up on?
Fish, rice, curry,
and the stories of a generation that had to beg for them
I grew up on badly-paved streets, faulty drainage and whispers of electricity,
and the lives of the people who had fallen in love with them
I grew up on humid, sun-scorched roads, next to a cemetery,
and I wasn’t afraid, because I was told heroes laid within.
I grew up kissing the earth: the land as much a mother as my blood
and I grew up Bangladeshi.

There was once a poet, who had said,
“I’ve seen the face of Bangladesh, and so I need not seek
anything
else from this earth”
and I think he saw the gasping light of a dying star:
one final, brilliant, supernova, a light stretched so far
that you could reach out and feel that final heartbeat,
and I’m sure that, just as it died, it died well.
And although I would learn its songs, its sights, its smells,
it wasn’t the Bangladesh whose air I’d breathe,
and I envy, that seed that had taken root and grown and died
long before mothers would learn to bury, daughters and son, in what they called
peacetime

Here, this country, you learn a thing or two:
that sympathy is an exhaustive resource,
that tragedy, is never more tragic than when it’s on the second page of newspapers,
because we are bored of dead children, men, and women
that hope, is the lifeblood of the starving and the deprived,
and crime is the blood-bank of choice.
Fear is measured in figures and data
and the lower your income, the greater your daily quota.
We are a people that speak of heroes who fought for the right to speak,
but we are a people whose youth hold justice as close to their hearts,
as their grudges
and we are a people to whom justice is blind,
because eye-for-an-eye is a matter of pride
because we are a people dedicated to strife
and to some of us, to breathe the air of the Bangladesh now
is to breathe in the ashes of the bridges we burnt,
only to leap off the cliffs they left behind:
“I have seen the face of Bangladesh, and so I dare not seek anything else from this Earth”

But, the earth, this land, hasn’t changed
and I grew up kissing the warm rain,
and the touch of fresh grass between my toes,
and the laughing winds knocking mangoes from their boughs,
and the taste of green that stretched
endlessly into a red sunset.
We’re not all evil, I swear:
there’s good there, hidden, they feared
for themselves.
there’s tolerance
whispering to itself.
There’s justice, too
making a home, somewhere, somehow,
because I heard that life goes on
and maybe there is a something, after the death of a star,
and there are many far better than I
who learn to live.
but we all grew up on fish, curry, rice,
and I hope we can grow up again,
Bangladeshis.

 

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