by Rasul Reza (1910-1981 )

Rasul Reza's real last name was Mammadkhanli. At age five (1915), he lost his father and was reared by an uncle whose first name was Reza. During the Soviet period, his father's name, meaning "khan" or "ruler", was closely associated with the bourgeoisie, which put him in great jeopardy. In "Bones," Rasul complains bitterly about this identity-it had nothing to do with his own making, but plagued him throughout his life. Despite these immense obstacles, he became one of the most prolific and dearly loved writers in Azerbaijan. He was the first Azerbaijani poet to use free verse in his poetry and was editor-in-chief of the first Azerbaijani translation of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia published in Baku.

(Abridged version)

In my mind
The shape of my first days
Is as blurry and confusing as that of my last.

One day I remember
My father did not return home.
My mother's wet eyes
Pursed my lips.
From that day onward
The shade of being orphaned
Hung over my joyful soul.

They said: "He will return."
I trusted them.
I waited but he did not come back.
I trusted consolations.
Sometimes in my dreams
I hugged his neck,
Looked into his blue eyes
And asked: "Oh Daddy, you've come again."
He would embrace me.
And run his fingers through my hair,
I would laugh with happiness.

But alas!
As I woke up
There was that bitter reality.
A big lump stuck in my throat.
I would cry at night for reasons I did not know.

Days ran by, days passed.
I forgot my grief, day by day;
I did not keep it within myself forever.

Months passed,
Years came.
Years were long.
Every day on life's path
The soul learned something new-
Bitter, sweet
Sometimes something delightful and beautiful,
Sometimes, bloody and rotten.
I sweated in the heat,
I froze in the cold.
I ran, I fell,
I got up, fell again.
Sometimes thorns made my fingers bleed-
Fingers that were gathering flowers.
Sometimes an inspiring song,
Or a silvery blue morning
Brought me joy.
One would shake my hand

Saying: "You're my friend!"
Another would punch me in the mouth
Saying "Shut up!"
I plunged myself into deep thought
To realize the meaning of what was happening.
Imagine how Reza suffered!

Every step I took
I ran into bones-
The bones entangled,
The bones ensnared,
The bones kept me from going forward.

From early childhood
I had fallen in love with the sweet language of poetry.
Poetry, sweeter than poison;
Poetry, sweeter than a kiss;
Poetry, sweeter than death.

From the first day I loved poetry,
I have not parted with it.
I joined the travelers.
I wanted to run forward,
To surmount the slopes.
I wanted to step among those in iron rows.
I said to myself: "Tomorrow, I will become one of those."
Again there came the bones-
The bones entangled,
The bones ensnared,
The bones kept me from going forward.

One day, with trembling hands
I filled out an application to join the Komsomol.
They gathered round to listen.
One by one they asked me
About my family
Starting from my great-grandfather.
Again there came the bones-
The bones entangled,
The bones ensnared,
The bones kept me from going forward.
The bones strangled me
Suffocating me as much as they could.

Months passed and years passed.
I jumped into the embrace of life.
I turned the pages of what is called life.
Whatever door I opened,
Wherever I looked
My wishes were genuine,
And my desires were radiant.
The labor of my hands,
The power of my brain
The passion of my heart
Were all useful to my people and the Motherland.
But I could have done seven times as much
And my grief and sorrow would have been seven times less
If the bones had not entangled,
If the bones had not ensnared,
And if the bones had not stopped me on my way
Like a cruel decision.

Enough! Enough!
Why should I carry on about
Bones that have long disintegrated into soil?!

Translated by Jala Garibova.

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