Soliloquies from the Village of Orphaned Widows

Tarfia Faizullah

An excerpt from the forthcoming collection, Registers of Illuminated Villages (Graywolf Press)


During the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971, collaborators led the Pakistani army to Sohagpur village. In one day, they killed 164 men. Fifty-seven women survived the atrocities, only to live out life as widows. Sohagpur (Village of Love) was renamed Bidhoba Palli (Village of Widows).

The army killed every male in the village, every male. When the army was gone, there was not a single man left to bury the dead. We had to drag the bodies ourselves and bury them.




Sharmila, why do you go on,
I tried not to ask,
about the thatched hut
where, yes, as you’ve said,
you had your first second
third fourth fifth child?
But I kept grinding
the rice into flour I loved
              to make fragrant
with water from dawn’s
pond. He’d pull
my hair (“Chup koro, Sharmila!”
I yelled). Later, I sidled over
to lay upon her soft arm.
“Maaf koro,” I cried.
He had hurt me. Yes,
I did miss him—

but what reason was that
to not apologize?


• • •


We married
at the cemetery.
My brother held the bouquet:
one black rose
and seven white marigolds.
I was a pinch of red clay.
A bright and transparent
feeling did not graft. The groom
stood beside me. I did not
think of what I was promising:
corpse. I ached
for the chokecherry tree
in the old village.
Maa ground anise seed
into gold dust.
Baba mended
wide fish nets
on days
fat with sky
and sun-crushed fallow . . .
Do you swear to obey?
I smirked.

My brother cut
the ribbon
cuffing my hand
to his. Run,
he begged. Below, the dead
continue their silent
and patient work.
Yes, Sharmila. It is my turn to cook.


• • •


I know                                                             ­
his hand                                  ­
is not pressed                      ­
anymore against           ­

my breastplate            ­
trying to pull me open when I    ­
curl into                   ­
a swan.                   ­

You’ll thank me                                                          ­
later, he’d smile.                                         ­
Are you awake,                         ­
lazy? calls Nahar            ­
from the fresh-rained  ­
pond.                     ­

“Ji, Ji!” I trill,                                                                      ­
lifting my beak from                      ­
the steel feathers           ­
still       ­

sprouting along               ­
my spine.        ­


• • •


But that was back
when Nahar’s boy
­                  would sit so content just okaané
­                                                       on his blue-painted stool.
We’d peel onions,
his favorites, the small

purple ones—he loved to read
those smarty-tarty books, share with us old aunties the good bits
from lives
­                 stranger than ours!
But that was before . . .

­                 I can’t bear to look

when twilight invites back all the smriti of yesteryear—
her eyes turn without her—back to

his slate—his name

­                  in chalk none of us
­                                               dare erase.


• • •


I was told I should say
no and taught to say
it’s okay
that jumps out of my throat,
ponds full of them, so many lazy
ferengi frogs . . . okay, okay, aachcha, okay, okay,
tikh hai, sure, sure, okay, okay, we say.
Why don’t we hop away
or stop being gross green bloats? Jaah!
I’d rather be a shapla phul: fat, pink, afloat.



• • •


Each day began
with the search
for the perfect one.
I was the shadow
his own shadow
made dusking
water as he bent
to blade the reed.
I was the hunger
more terrible than
hunger. He saw
in the yaw
of my harpooning hips.
What you need, he wept,
is purity. I was not
the taint he swore
he’d flay away;
I was the plant
he stripped
into a whip.
He was patient
with his fists.
But the gods gave
him no peace. I
did not weep.
They knew I
was not weak.
I test the knife.
It glints. It


• • •


I squat in the dirt to take a piss
until the promise of rain
makes me sway; I wash
­               between my thighs,
­                                                           still soft as moon-sanded tides
­               of Cox’s Bazar’s shoreline.
­                                          I left every life I knew
­­                                                           the night he untied me,
­­               and, well, the moon fell into my well!
­­                                                           I want to share spicy
­­                                          chaat with a man
before and after the storm.
­­                               I want him to marvel at newspaper twirled
­­                                          into a cone. I want him
­­                               to promise me a pendulum
­­                                          of aparajita blossoms to cinch
into an embrace, oh, my ungrasped waist . . . oh
­                                                           well! I will twist myself
­                                          into a new frenzy of pink chiffon!
­                                                                        It is holy
­                                                           to touch ourselves
­                                          without the permission of the gods!
­                               I hold my breath
­               and teacup.
O Durga Maa!
Send this thirst away
in a fleet of rickshaws!


• • •


When I say love,
I mean
each artery of this ink.
When I say quick
conjecture of paper
and torrential,
I mean
my desire to designate
your vena cava in charcoal.
When I say ekaane aasho
before I say no,
I mean my quill
tickling your ventricle.
Aaina, my nib
between your teeth.
Name me moth-
wing, lightning-
shudder, milk-
tongue—yes, wolf-
whistle me
into moon-
thorn, unlatch
my orphan window, unpainted
atrium only
sinners dare


• • •


Our pet bunny                                                                             ­
Chaandu was thistle white,                                   ­
moonberry black. When he died,
ahaaré, the tornadoes my sister
ugly-cried: the last loss.
I did not.
I wiped clean
a metal box.
I folded
I buried
him alone.
It was too
hot to wait.
I went on
until it was done.
Well, Time? I said, finally. Ami
ekaané. What are you, anyway? Trap, or tree?
But there was no one                                                         ­
but me at the gateway.                                                               ­


Tarfia Faizullah is the author of the award-winning Seam, and her second collection, Registers of Illuminated Villages, is forthcoming in March from Graywolf Press. In 2016, she was recognized by Harvard Law School as one of 50 Women Inspiring Change. She teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan.