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  • "What Do You Think Life Is?", and: Translation, and: To Robert Lowell
  • Sofiul Azam (bio)

"What Do You Think Life Is?"

for Don Paterson

Once I killed a rat or two,that cut and stole and stored fully ripe rice in their holes,with buckets of water poured down thereand finally with a spade that came thumping hard.A nine-year-old like me didn't wait longerto celebrate a triumph with much of a fanfare.And I still reflect on it, and think life is morea series of triumphs, big or small, if you like.

Once I sat tight three long hoursby Grandpa's backyard pond full of overgrown hyacinths,with a fishing rod that yielded no catch in the end.I remember I returned homewith the first touch of sadness in years,a harbinger of more failures to come.And I still reflect on it, and think life is morea series of failures, big or small, if you like.


for Daniel Thomas Moran

Time and time again I've said I'm not contentwith one thread to make a lusterless dress,and I need lots of them dyed in colors.With labor, I've made a fine but single thread [End Page 142] to be knitted into others. I'm embarrassinglyflawed without other threads—other languages.Hard-pressed and suffocating, I feel the sapof my desire drying out. Water me and you'llsee me rewarding you with cotton ballsfor your thread. The sooner the better.Translate me into your voice, which supportsthe matching of your space with your time.I'm not in the least scared of what the deadwarned I might lose in translation. Spreadwhatever I say across continents and make meyour overhanging sky. Without you, I'll bea sack of seeds not taken out to sprout.Translate me into winged seeds if you can.Your language is a key. Open the cell for me.Let me gain whatever I can out of freedom—the other name of which is translation.You can translate me into rain on a placewhere the season of drought seems to be endlessfor dams being not a river's bracelets but shackles.Translate me into peace on all your killing fieldsor into anything to get the air of relaxation,to drive snowflakes to let the summer in.

To Robert Lowell


Lowell, you don't live anymore in ancestral NewEngland but in the prose you thought of asless cut off from life, somewhat clothed in poetry.Glory to you, embalmer! A part of you still gets

worm bitten and a bit whitened in your grave.If exorcised, will you be a latter-day Nostradamus,given the gift of prophecy like Cassandra—for my time? It's hell tracing your bumpy move [End Page 143]

from theology to history, intimacy, marriagesand the act of your homing in on the present,which memory reconstructs. Like Hamlet,you, made of the stubborn stuff, played mad

instead of cleaning up the mess you did in life,and that made you mad and shrouded in insanity.


Like you, I aspire to stretch myself for a looser,softer prosody. It's hell conforming to suffocatingverse. Yet you—more read about than read—always missed the heart you watched out for

in a country not weather bound nor an infernorenewed in your tranquilized fifties. Watchingdividers mess about in the country's conscience,you lacked the skills to showcase the patterns.

Things seemed to be happening irreligiously,scaring your Puritan class of a life with excusesfor a bed on the grass, under no Christened roof,under a canopy of threatened clouds. The prose

you penned in poetry has been more prosaicin your successors' hands, cold as iced-up corpses. [End Page 144]

Sofiul Azam

Sofiul Azam has two books of poetry titled Impasse and In Love with a Gorgon and edited Short Stories of Selim Morshed. Another collection of poetry, Earth and Windows: New and Selected Poems, is forthcoming. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Le Zaporogue, Catamaran, The Journal, Orbis...


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