Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee


Ants on City Walls

Think
Neither
fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices

Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.

~ T.S. Eliot, Gerontion

Here we are, in the cruellest month, to choose
Our future, marked on our finger.
Will we survive the lie?
The fate of truth hangs in balance. What we
Choose for us, we choose for others.
The homeless are at the mercy of stars.    
They are drawn as ants on city walls.
Their house of sand is shaking.
They sing elegies on weak bellies, feed on memory,
Their lives on land tremble like water.  
Their wordless fear, make us recall the oldest
Responsibility on earth:
Offer water, bread, and your smile,
To the stranger who appears at your door. If she does
Not have papers, it does not mean
She is a thief.

A doomed nation puts faith on the piss of borders,
Not songs of the homeless.

Those who bow to other gods do not  
Pray to eliminate you.   
Like you, they are anxious of being heard.
Those who bow to other gods enlarge your
World of prayer, bless the air you breathe. If you drive   
Away the gods, your land will reek of curses.    
Your air will reek of death. The government that lures you
To be hostile is a fox. Don’t
Pay it heed. Or you will ruin the heart’s temple.

Your stars are at stake. Find your way
Back before you were led by vanities. Recover the moment
Before you sacrificed your tongue, to 
Cheer the wrongs of history. Recover the place where you
Lost your ancient heart, and raised your          
Hand to demolish the house of god. If you humiliate
Others, you will bleed their agony. Unlike the beasts you
Imitate in your delirium, the wrath of
Your conscience will find you.

How many lies does it take to hide the truth?
Not many, just one, repeated every day.
Just as Goebbels said, the man who did not know
He will kill no less Germans, as Jews.

You play with fear for a war raging
Inside a heart already devastated. Those ants you draw,
They are you, when you
Wake up, from this deepening nightmare.


Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee is a poet, writer, translator and political science scholar. His poems have appeared in World Literature Today, Rattle, The London Magazine, New Welsh Review, Acumen, The Fortnightly Review, and others. His prose has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Guernica, Outlook, The Hindu and The Wire. His first collection of poetry, Ghalib’s Tomb and Other Poems, was published by The London Magazine (November, 2013). His political nonfiction, Looking for the Nation: Towards Another Idea of India, was published by Speaking Tiger Books (August, 2018).


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