Poetry at Sangam



WORDS AND MEANINGS by Mangalesh Dabral

(Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell.)

Whenever I write a word
it lacks the meaning I intended
I write tree on a sheet of paper
but have no faith it will be considered a tree
or perhaps some tree will appear inside it covered in leaves
I wish to give form to a scream that gathers inside me
I take refuge in dictionaries seeking synonyms
But whatever word I find
is filled with a dark landscape
or else it is an empty façade
its interior already destroyed
I wish to call out to someone
but the words have already begun to fall like ash
Over and over I repeat
This is not the word that held that meaning
This is not the meaning that went with that word

Most meanings have parted ways with their words
Some have gone in the opposite direction
The tyrants of our time have driven them away
and built settlements in the space between object and verb
Only a few words have retained their meanings
Fear is even more fearful now and terror more terrifying
We no longer find lovers within love
Words of anguish
Are replaced with announcements for heartless celebrations
When someone powerful mentions a new dawn
it could mean darkness draws nigh
It is possible someone known for his humanity
has long since ceased to be humane
And when I screw up my courage and call a persecutor a persecutor
he does not appear angry, but rather smiles in self-congratulation
One day I mentioned humanity in front of a mighty man
but he got annoyed and responded
Everyone’s busy doing their own thing
but here you are, still harping on about humanity