Mir Mahfuz Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He studied at Essex University. He dances, acts, has worked as a male model and a tandoori chef. He has given readings and performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and other theatres in Britain and beyond. His poems have appeared in London Magazine, Poetry London, Ambit and PN Review.
Mahfuz was shortlisted for the New Writing Ventures Awards 2007. His poetry has been published in the anthology Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word (Bloodaxe Books, 2010), edited by Bernadine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra.
Forgive me badho, my camelia bush,
when you are full of yourself and blooming,
you may ask why, having spent so many years
comfortably in your breasts I still dream of Salma’s,
just as I did when I was a hungry boy in shorts,
her perfect fullness amongst chestnut leaves.
The long grass broke as I ran, leaving
its pollen on my bare legs.
When the soldiers came, even the wind
at my heels began to worship Salma’s beauty.
A soldier kicked me in the ribs. I fell
to the ground wailing.
They brought Salma into the yard,
asked me to watch how they would explode
a bullet into her. But I turned my head away
as they ripped her begooni blouse,
exposing her startled flesh. The young soldier
held my head, twisting it back towards her,
urging me to spit at a woman
as I might spit a melon seed into the olive dirt.
The soldier decorated with two silver bars
and two half-inch stripes was the first to drop his
ironed khaki trousers and dive on top of Salma.
His back arched as she fought for the last leaf
of her dignity. He laughed as he pumped
his rifle-blue buttocks in the Hemonti sun.
Then covered in Bengal’s soft soil, he offered
her to the next soldier in line.
They all had their share of her,
dragged her away out of the yard.
I went in search of Salma,
amongst the firewood in the jungle.
Stood in the middle of a boot-bruised field,
working out how the wind might lead me to her.
Then I saw against the deepening sky
a thin mangy bitch, tearing at a body with no head,
breasts cut off in a fine lament,
I knew then who she was, and kicked
the bitch in the ribs, the same way
that I had been booted in the chest.
My First Shock at School
Muktar was his name – his tongue
still white with his mother’s milk,
and he sucked his thumb in the classroom.
Monsoon music drowned the light of day.
Our Lakeside School was surrounded by black waters.
Water-hyacinth, rice-grass and lotus covered the lake.
Tiffin time. Playground muddy.
We had nowhere to go at break, but watched
how the rain-mist dusted our eyes – a white darkness.
He led me to the back of our school.
We stood at the water’s edge.
He took his fleshy shoot out of his pouch.
It was small as a young gherkin,
a yellow flower still attached to its head.
I laughed. He took my hand, pulled it
and asked me to touch, as if to take the flower
with the ant that hid in its pollen.
I snatched my hand away.
He wanted to slide mine out of my blue shorts,
measure it against his.
I refused. He insisted again,
said it was tiny and soft as a leech.
I reached out into the darkness of my pants.
His eyes sparkled as if he’d just seen a spikenard bloom.
First published in Ten: New poets from Spread the Word,
edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra (Bloodaxe, 2010)
Order Ten here or here.
Read more of Mir Mahfuz Ali’s poetry at the
Poetry International Web.
Read ‘Fellowship of the exiles: a tale of writers’ resilience’ in
The Christian Science Monitor.