Border night

One night in a dream

my bed a grave

buried Monjula and others

voices muffled

in a ripe paddy field

where soldiers with guns

guard a new fence

that the black cat

ran over and over

my body alive-dead.

My dream's Monjula

lives by the river Chring

India this side

Bangladesh that

suffered deep vein thrombosis

but forgot to see the nurse

when she did

ugly wounds erupted

Villagers said

it's cancer in the leg.

But there was hope

that autumn Chring dried

Monjula's body strapped

on a bamboo stretcher

carried across

to the forty-bed hospital

doctors treated her ulcers

as they erupted

Villagers said

it's cancer in the leg.

One side of Chring

Monjula's husband James

traded news with her sister

Blood loss fluid in veins

One injection another

More money sent

Chring witness to every word

at the border

Villagers said

it's cancer in the leg.

Monjula died soon

her body travelled back

buried with her new dress

purse, comb, and toothbrush

a mud grave with a wooden cross

James did not take

another wife in the village

the Chring flows

Villagers said

it's cancer in the leg.

My dream's Monjula

speaks to me

in sleep in waking

I leave my faraway city

for the village

the Chring flows

this time soldiers with guns

hold a notebook

that villagers sign

to fetch water and bathe.

In the final settlement

on the fence

the black one across the red hills

Chring is no one's zone

Monjula's grave fenced out

Do the soldiers know?

they watch over the dead

who speak to the living

in faraway places

from a bed in a grave.

Do the soldiers know?

the year before

Domahi had malaria like ten others

died with fluid in her veins

the year before

Nobel who sold tea had tumours

the year next her husband

followed her to the grave

of illness no one knows for certain

but all think it was tuberculosis.

Do the soldiers know?

the year next

the child whose tumour moved

from hand to leg and hand again

this morning's day-old child

died said her grandmother

carrying her clothes

in a soldier's patchy rucksack

I cleaned the yard

with a new broom she said.

The night I return

unable to see Monjula

I sleep sad and sound

the Chring flows

my host possessed by a ghost

screams her shadow touches my body

but she is not from my village

frightened I turn my face away

but before I could turn to see her face

you screamed so loudly she said.

The morning after

the wise counsel

there are no ghosts

The dead rest they do not seek

And yet they speak

with jostling bodies

shadows and noise

night and day

of ignored pain moving tumors

cancer in the leg.

The fence divides land

theirs and ours

our village well on their fertile land

their fertile land our pathway to the forest

Fences-in disease fences-out graves

their dead our dying

mud graves twisted crosses

Interrupted conversations

on cancer in the leg

with soldiers of dreams and deaths.

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Himal Southasian