Sudder Street, Calcutta

The blackout arrives punctually, bringing to life
the meager light of so many brief candles.
This is the shrine of suffering’s patron saint,
where man’s body falls asunder, besieged walls
crumbling, helpless, as death tunnels underground
with tones of dynamite, to blow the body heavenward.

On Sudder Street the same procession of beggars
in inexhaustible variations of deformity and need,
peddlers offering passages to temporary nirvana,
the brown sugar girl and her magic mushrooms.
A human rickshaw canters by, yoked
to the ledger of debts from previous lives.
He is dragging alone, his feet pain-proof,
the sum of things unexplained.
Deserted angels lie sprawled on Sudder Street,
beauty broken in God’s terrible neglect.

The hands of this poem are useless stumps.
They cannot even begin to turn the page.
I come from a race that has no word for despair,
its culture purged of poverty’s germs, its language
a propaganda of faith in absolute health.
I even doubt my ABC.

Perhaps I am looking in the wrong archives
for my history, checking the wrong catalogues,
tracing irrelevant titles. Perhaps I should stop
subscribing to foreign publications which inform me
of happenings on the other planets.
On Sudder Street my mind is numb.
My legs are thinking hard. They hold long dialogues
with cul-de-sacs and turn to frail candles
for illumination. I had better decide soon
whether it is health or sickness that I want.

But tonight let me take my place
among the forlorn angels of Sudder Street.

by Boey Kim Cheng
from Another Place (1992)


SELECTED POEMS: "Day of No Name" >