Bones Will Crow

Desert Years
Tin Moe

a strand of grey hair
a decade gone

In those years
the honey wasn’t sweet
mushrooms wouldn’t sprout
farmlands were parched

The mist hung low
the skies were gloomy
Clouds of dust on the cart tracks
Acacia and creepers
and thorn-spiral blossoms
But it never rained
and when it did rain, it never poured

At the village front monastery
no bells rang
no music for the ear
no novice monks
no voices reading aloud
Only the old servant with a shaved head
sprawled among the posts

And the earth
like fruit too shy to emerge
without fruit
in shame and sorrow
glances at me
When will the tears change
and the bells ring sweet?

Translated  by Maung Tha Noe & Christopher Merrill

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Bones Will Crow is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poetry published in the West, with both the original Burmese (Myanmar) text and the English translation.

“It includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship.” (Arc publications)

“When that moment comes, it becomes very, very difficult for any regime – no matter how talented it is at the business of repression –  to put people back in their box, and I believe that it what we’re witnessing at the moment.”

from: Fergal Keane’s introduction to the Bones Will Crow event at SOAS, 24th October 2012.

In 2012, several of the contributing Burmese poets gave readings in London, UK. Some read only in Burmese, while others read their work in both their native language and English. This was my first exposure to Burmese culture; it marks somewhat of a turning point in my life.

Listen as two of the country’s most esteemed poets, Zeyar Lynn and Khin Aung Aye, read from their work and discuss the country’s budding literary scene with the editor of Bones Will Crow:

The Day (Before That Day)

The day before that day
A huntress held her breath
The day that annihilated itself
The day that dressed my wounds …

That day
With the cold-bloodedness of
A public executioner
Needed nerve to reconstruct itself …

That day
Of amnesia without special effects
Needed a genuine gasp for air
To purify its lungs …

That day
Could have been the moon jumping out
From the grim underside of clouds
That day
Could have been a ticket
For a journey that never began …

On that day
He switched off the song he’d been singing along to
I shelved the book I’d been reading
The nameless café bored him
And my aimless yacht anchored

In fact …
I achieved nothing
It was a day of horrid loss …
Horrifying disintegration …

In fact …
Uncertain were the days
The bitter days disfigured by experiments
They will never be resold
For the price I paid

In fact …
In life …
I was in the habit of abhorring

On that day
He mocked me
With the worst of words
I took all his barbs
And laughed them off

On the day before that day
Is it today
Is it really today?

The day before that day
I poisoned the arrowhead
That would shoot me down.

Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne

from: Bones Will Crow: An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets
Edited and translated by Ko Ko Thett and James Byrne


Buy: Bones Will Crow (Arc publications, 2012)

Listen to Fergal Keane’s full introduction on Soundcloud

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