Sofiul Azam ~ Poems

When Species Are Becoming Extinct in the Wild

Each of this planet’s dai­ly spins on its axis mat­ters for those
who face the trau­ma of being out there with­out the liv­ing green.

On the out­skirts of my home­town there was a knoll myth­i­cal­ly formed
of clay shak­en off spades – green grass and a few trees here and there
like some hap­haz­ard punc­tu­a­tion marks.
Because I loved sym­phonies of rustling trees on a breezy afternoon,
my father and I used to go there to plant trees on its erod­ing slopes
despite the fears that goats and cows could eat them up.
But one rainy day a cou­ple of decades lat­er, I saw that knoll was gone,
flat­tened, as if noth­ing had exist­ed in there before.

I was dev­as­tat­ed. I read on the Internet: cloud­ed leop­ards used to roam free
in my part of the Garo Hills; now extinct in the wild but part of the local myth.
And now the country’s last remain­ing female cloud­ed leop­ard lives
with­out a male part­ner in a safari park cage.
My moth­er told me about wild munt­jacs in our decid­u­ous forest.
In a poem last year, I men­tioned Bengal fox­es in ref­er­ence to the sunshower
in which they get mar­ried to each oth­er, accord­ing to a Bengali nurs­ery rhyme.
I didn’t know this Bengal fox is already local­ly extinct in the wild.
When was the last time I saw wild boar poop among clumps of muli-bamboos?
I don’t remem­ber it. Orange-bel­lied Himalayan squir­rels, too –
a view we see increas­ing­ly less like the rar­i­ty of Gangetic dolphins
and ghar­i­als these days. Fishing cats are dis­ap­pear­ing from our wetlands.
White-rumped vul­tures the country’s famed scav­engers are bor­der­ing on extinction.

At sun­set on the har­vest­ed crop-fields on the way home from the hills,
I real­ized that stu­pid­i­ty has no col­or, and we have it down to an art.


Farmhouse at Sixty Crabs

Farming is a pro­fes­sion of hope. – Brian Brett

My father is retired but at Sixty Crabs, though I’m sure
he’s seen more crabs in wet-fields around his farm,
a new life as cat­tle­man or poul­try­man takes root.

On wak­ing, he loves to see anoth­er day dawns
on the tail of purring dark­ness chased away
by light’s inces­sant growls. As a connoisseur,

he lis­tens to milch cows moo­ing, goats bleating,
broil­ers and lay­ers cluck­ing, ducks quacking;
rain pat­ter­ing on the cor­ru­gat­ed tin roof,

white-breast­ed water­hens from water­logged trees,
the swish of win­ter winds through ele­phant grass,
they all cre­ate the best musi­cal chords for him.

He had no life of his own, all his col­ors fad­ed out
over the years of meet­ing oth­ers’ demands.
He smells free­dom among these soulmates.

His chil­dren seem to be like ancient cop­per coins:
val­ued for the mem­o­ries of their daz­zling arrivals
but of no use for any of his present needs.

He’s sick and tired of giv­ing every­one his almost
fanat­i­cal riffs on val­ues evap­o­rat­ing like dew.
Nobody’s per­fect, so he now gives up on it.

When he’s stressed out and so eager to break
free out of his old mis­eries’ suck­ing tentacles,
not his fam­i­ly, only these ani­mals make sense to him.

The sea­sons change. Stepping out­side at dawn,
he loves the pleas­ant­ness of the air about his farm,
and watch­ing them grow plump fills his heart.

All his hurts – dark blem­ish­es in his mind –
are being erased clean and white as his cows’ milk.
He loves the sil­ver of fish splash­ing on his pond.


A Potted Bluebellvine

On my bal­cony there is a pot­ted bluebellvine
with its crowd­ed, over­grown branches
– like the crop of someone’s thick curly hair –
peep­ing out for more sun­light from the grille

around which the whole of its body firm­ly twisted.
Its blue flow­ers the shape of female genitals
against its small green leaves often remind me
of the lone­li­ness of men with­out women.

I remem­ber my wife brought it home one evening
when it was just a tiny plant that need­ed care.
My kids, espe­cial­ly my lit­tle daugh­ter, had
lots of pho­tos with it at dif­fer­ent stages of its life.

One day we had to go some­where else for weeks,
but we didn’t know how to keep it watered
dur­ing our absence. My wife prayed so that
it’d some­how be thrown a life­line the way she does

for every sick fam­i­ly mem­ber. Once back home
we got sur­prised: it had sur­vived these weeks
almost with­out water – except an evening shower
my neigh­bor informed me of over the phone –

but not with­out a cost: some of its branches
have become dry sticks with a few remain­ing leaves
crispy like pota­to crack­ers. It might have
thought of every pos­si­ble way to stay alive

but soon­er or lat­er it had to give up and stop
the sup­ply of rain­wa­ter to some of its branches.
It did because it had to sur­vive. Bluebellvine,
we are proud of how you sur­vived this austerity!



In my home­town, there’s still a big mar­ket area
with a thin road slight­ly snaking through it
as if it metic­u­lous­ly thread­ed a tar­nished needle.

On both sides of the road stud­ded with tin sheds,
ven­dors sit with their bam­boo-made wick­er baskets;
and there are also rick­shaw vans either pushed

or ped­aled. People from all walks of life go
there for meat, fish, fruits, veg­eta­bles, leafy greens,
milk, and for gro­ceries as well. In my childhood,

when­ev­er I need­ed mon­ey for either chocolate,
ice-cream, or peanuts, I went shop­ping there
because I kept the remain­ing mon­ey for myself.

At dawn when fog still enveloped my hometown,
I drowsi­ly dragged my feet – for my lit­tle greed –
to buy meat, ten­gara fish, Bengal loach my favorite,

dry fish wrapped in leaves of white turmeric
that grew pro­fuse­ly in all our neigh­bor­ing bushes,
balls of sug­ar­cane jag­gery, banana flo­rets in bracts,

and put them all into the jute bag my father
and I might have used for years. How fast I am
for­get­ting that jute was once the country’s cash crop!

Now I shop in a super­store lit by flu­o­res­cent tubes
and fit­ted with secu­ri­ty cam­eras, sometimes
with my daugh­ter on the seat of a gro­cery cart,

and everything’s put into plas­tic bags that keep
chock­ing all life in earth and water. Yes, I’ve
become a per­fect cit­i­zen of this deranged world!


In the Jungles

On read­ing Kenneth Anderson

Imagine your­self a big game hunter on a machan,
wait­ing over the kill of a man-eat­ing tiger
– the scourge of areas bor­der­ing a jungle –
unmoved but look­ing up at stars as if puffed rice
against the dark. You are not hard of hearing
nor poor of sight but pro­fuse­ly per­spir­ing over
your reflex­es not as light­ning-fast as a hood­ed snake.
Don’t for­get all of what you are depends on defeating
a man-eater’s cun­ning­ness with yours. Imagine

mud glued to your shoe heels in the scorch­ing sun
and damp trousers stick­ing like your sec­ond skin
after a slip on the sludge. At the cow-dust
hour, you see graz­ing cat­tle return home from the lush
veg­e­ta­tion on the jungle’s fringe. The villagers’
life­line is crops and cat­tle that put a heavy toll
on wild her­bi­vores. Conflicts with carnivores
go out of con­trol; then arrive the hunters –
now a polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect species for environuts.

Imagine it’s your first jun­gle night, a very scary
fog-paint­ed night at that. You might have
more than accept­ed jun­gle bush­es to be alert for –
under which man-eaters crouch and from which
they unnerv­ing­ly spring. Returning through bushes,
across nul­lahs and over boul­ders wouldn’t be easy.
So by a lake, build a fire to stay secure.
After that, enjoy fire­flies with birds and bees
as the back­ground music amid ever-increas­ing fears.


In the Hills

On top of a hill, I vaca­tion in a bamboo
    house. A lit­tle stream snakes down
through the val­ley that comes alive
    with birds’ twit­ter­ing at dawn. And sunlight
on its mur­mur­ing water –
    a bro­ken mir­ror pieced togeth­er by air.
Yesterday I saw a dead tree flowered

with birds of prey ready to swoop down
    on rats and snakes near­by. In afternoons
words from half-remem­bered poems
    touch down like rain-washed winds;
I remain grate­ful for I had enough
    of bit­ter­ness and betray­als in my old city.
I would rather romance the mossed crags

out there than lust for gor­geous ladies
    with breasts taped for plung­ing neckline
gowns with side-slits and hair
    tou­sled in gen­tle waves on shoulders.
When I feel like breath­ing in the cool
    night air, I look out from the overhanging
bal­cony and at times watch out

in the veg­e­ta­tion for movements
    – more curi­ous­ly under the moon­lit sky –
of ani­mals or of a hill-born cou­ple madly
    in love with­out let­ting their clan-heads
know of it. All that I want is peace
    no less mol­li­fy­ing than a moonglade.
If like a Romantic, I could remain here forever!


Sofiul Azam has three pub­lished poet­ry col­lec­tions Impasse (2003), In Love with a Gorgon (2010), Safe under Water (2014) and edit­ed Short Stories of Selim Morshed (2009). His work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Pirene’s Fountain, North Dakota Quarterly, The Ibis Head Review, The Ghazal Page, Cholla Needles, Poetry Salzburg Review, Orbis, The Cannon’s Mouth, Postcolonial Text, and else­where. Some poems are anthol­o­gized in Two Thirds North, fourW: New Writing 28, Journeys, Caught in the Net among oth­ers. His fourth poet­ry col­lec­tion Persecution is forthcoming,and he is work­ing on This Time, Every Time and Days in the Forested Hills. He cur­rent­ly teach­es English at World University of Bangladesh, hav­ing taught it before at oth­er universities.