Phoenix’s Birth Pangs

By Navakanta Barua

Now, just now I have set me on fire
Burnt up my ancient wings 
Wings I could not fly with anymore 
But only flapped the wind—the wind
And aroused mockery and despair

I have set my backbone, thousand years old, aflame
Whence sprang forth countless branches of brittle bones 
The fluid in their marrow dried up.

I have set my ancient heart on fire
Stuck in stasis
Like clock hands standing still
In an eternally meaningless present.

Burnt up my obsolete wisdom
Buried in the bulk of my inert pride.
Ah! My age-old body-sap enmeshed in the senses
Is burning 
With an ecstasy of self-annihilating delight!

With the letters in my own funeral ashes, I thought,
The name of my father would be scripted on water
I thought the funeral ashes would nurture 
the dream harvest of future.
I didn't know that it was only me who fathered myself
I didn't know that it was only me who was born of myself.

In a strange flare of light
 I had a glimpse of my funeral pyre 
Shadow of my father
In the cool touch of strange death
 I could feel the warmth of my fuel
My offspring
My blood
I was born
I was born.

Translated by Dr Pori Hiloidari

Navakanta Barua (b.1926-d.2002) was a noted Assamese poet, novelist and translator.

Dr. Pori Hiloidari is a critic and award winning translator of Assam. She teaches English in Handiqui Girls’ College, Panbazar, Guwahati.

Click here to read the original Assamese poem.

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