Read time: 3 mins

Two Poems

by Sarmad Sehbai
15 June 2021

Translated from Urdu to English by Umair Kazi

Translator’s note

It seems a fair assumption that preparation and prior study, or at the very least, a strong familiarity with an author’s work almost always precede the act of translation. These translations of Sarmad Sehbai’s poems, however, underwent a very different sort of parturition. They were indeliberate and immediate, occasioned simultaneously while reading Sarmad’s work for the first time over the course of a spirited weekend. Their immediacy perhaps speaks more to Sarmad’s ars poetica than my ars translatica: Sarmad’s verse is unornate and simple, built upon a set of figures, colours and images that are reconfigured to communicate secret revelries and mysterious feelings. I translated these poems to satisfy the urge to read them more intimately, to get closer to them (William Gass describes translation as a way of reading: ‘reading of the best, most essential kind’), and I was fortunate enough to have received a warm and generous welcome.


 

To an Abstract Girl at the National College of Arts

 

By what stark, colourful

Threats do you claw your lustful

Riddles into the half-dream

Ecstasies of boys with downy mustaches—

Rend their sleep?

 

The compact inside your purse

Hides your secret face.

Your pear-breasts,

Laced with the gossamer of

Late afternoon light,

Warrior myth in your pockets,

Smoky halation across your face.

 

Your eyes are sketching out what

Chess moves?

Your lips have parted for whose

Invisible kiss?

 

Come, let me colour you

In this season of abandon.

Rest your face on the easel

Of my arms, let me draw

Your portrait with my lips.


 

Some Days

 

There are some green and guileless days—

Whose pockets aren’t stuffed with newspapers

Or watches piping useless alarms

Or with the market’s highs and lows;

They bring nothing of the sort.

 

There are some days

Whose mouths don’t froth with gossip,

Whose faces are not haunted by terrifying

Conspiracies.

On these days, loudspeakers leave the city,

Shops vanish without a trace.

All protests and rallies disband.

 

The wide-open window of these days

Doesn’t bring cold, polluted air.

Their verandas are not fiery infernos.

Days like these have their own climate.

They wear flower mufflers and bouncy

Earrings. They come swaying heedlessly—

Stark naked.

 

These days, these days, stealing

Fresh apples from season less trees,

Rouse a mythic warrior will

In the crowded pit of bodies.

They come through unknown doors,

A whisper of eternities, taking over.


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Illustration by Isma Hasan

About the Author

Sarmad Sehbai

Sarmad Sehbai is a poet, playwright, film and theatre director from Pakistan who works in Urdu, Punjabi and English. He is the author of numerous poetry collections including Neeli Kay Su Rung, Un Kahi Baton ki Thakan and Pal Bhar ka Bahisht. His film Mah-e-Mir was Pakistan’s official nominee for Oscars in 2017 and garnered Sehbai a Lifetime Achievement […]

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