The Alphabet

A Poem by Mangalesh Dabral

I want to write the letter A in a language
A for apple A for apricot
but I start writing A for adversity A for atrocity
I try writing B for bat or B for benevolence
but I end up writing B for brutality B for betrayal
up until now I’ve been writing C for cat
but now C has the sound of a catastrophe in wait
I used to think D must be for daisies
lots and lots of daisies
outside houses inside houses and inside humans
but I saw that all the flowers were being carried away
to become garlands that would adorn the wicked

someone grabs my hand and says
Write F for fear which is present everywhere
I stands for injury and L for lapse
despots snatch away our complete alphabet
they turn the violence in language
into society’s violence
M has been reserved for murder
no matter how much we write mop and moose
they keep writing M for murder all the time

translated from the Hindi by Sarabjeet Garcha

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