Monua in Boston (revised)
My sister told me how, in her college days,
She’d traveled from South Hadley, a satellite
Of Amherst town, to busy Boston, where,
One winter’s eve, she waited for a bus –
And everyone that passed by, in that cold
And sullen night, seemed wrapped in such a fog
That none could see through it. For each was trapped,
It seemed to her, within a private hell.
How much of this was she, and how much they,
Those strangers, passing, in that urban cold,
My sister – born to sun, of sky and heart,
I do not know – for this, she did not tell.
But what she saw were tense expressions – frowns,
That lack of recognition, which our towns
Impose on those who yield. And this extends
To all around, as if all else were dead.
But this much, I can now surmise, with sight
That I then lacked – that she perhaps was wise,
From isolations that I’d never known,
And so could see, how troubled were those souls,
So locked within themselves – and round and round
In endless circles of frustration bound,
With self consuming self, without an out
From friendship, love, or care for what’s without…
It is this isolation – the living grave
Of urban life within efficient towns,
Where human contact and affections are
Redundant – where so many daily live
As jackals lone, whom Nature made as dogs –
That leads, I think, to higher suicide rates
In Scandinavia, where the Vikings live
In indoor warmth, in winters cold and dark.
They lack, perhaps, that rawest sustenance
That humans give, to others of their kind,
By their demands and their annoying ways
Which draw us out of selves – and into sun.
And if we see this, in the truest light,
We will not turn away, although our souls
May need a refuge, finding deep delight
In quietness – as in a silent night.
How much of this, my sister had surmised,
How much she hadn’t, only she could tell,
Who told me, Boston seemed a rung of hell.
I’m sure Bostonians might, at this, object.
And one experience, on a winter’s eve,
Should not be used to beat a city down.
But this I know, what Monua then perceived,
Had left its scar. I heard – and I believed.
For Boston’s just a marker. What she saw,
We all might see in cities ‘round the world.
Wherever men and women take to heart
The dictates of the demon-engine, there
We find the blight that rots us from within.
It leaves us sickened, faces turned to masks,
As each is writhing in what Dante scribed –
A place infernal, though we walk on earth.
Babui (Arjun) Janah2006 June 4th, Sun.
(revised & with the last two stanzas added,
2013 Dec. 19th, Thu., Brooklyn, New York)
1959 – 2004
Note on pronunciation: My late sister’s name, Monua, has, in Bangla (Bengali), three smoothly joined and almost evenly stressed syllables, Mo-nu-a, with the three vowels being as in English “gold” (but shorter), “put” (but slightly longer) and “arm” (but shorter).
The first vowel gets, usually, just a slight emphasis – through a bit more of duration and loudness. Since the last two vowels form a smooth diphthong, her name might also be thought of as having just two syllables, Mo-nua, with the “u” being, however, a distinct short “u”, (as in “put”) not a “w”.