Sujata Bhatt – Poppies in Translation

for Ioana Ieronim

You tell us how in Romanian,
the wild poppies growing everywhere
are a living flame of love

I imagine a single flame, and then a wildfire
by the roads, in the fields,
even between the railway tracks
where the sun spills through

Windswept, they might be, these poppies,
fluttering but confident,
certain of love and life,
as they grow up in your poem, in Romanian.

As you speak, I remember those poppies;
as you speak, I imagine their thin, hairy stems
entangled with grass, and can simply feel
the way their wild redness
burns and reels: reckless, reckless with first love –
first sorrow and pain – I can feel
the way light slides through their skins –
I have seen such poppies.
I have seen crêpe de chine, chiffon,
how their sheerest silks glisten in the sun, bright as fresh blood.

They could be Hindu brides,
ripening in their red saris,
as they face Agni –
skin glowing gold on gold on gold.

There are days when the poppies know something more.
Days when even in their restless trembling
as the wind slaps down,
they ripple with the strength of their ragged petals.

I have seen such poppies:
What you call a living flame of love
Even their stamens, whorls of black filaments,
ache with love – even their anthers,
powdered and smudged bluish black-violet,
ache with love.

How else describe their power?

Still, in English, we don’t know
about this love.
Do we dare to say
their intensity is love?

Who is the speaker in your poem?
Does she have the authority to make such claims?
What is it about your tone, your cadence,
that doesn’t carry over into English?
Granted, we accept that fire and flame
describe more than one colour;
granted, we understand strong emotions,
but adding love over here, en passant,
makes us uneasy.

In English, we say the poppies speak to us,
we say their intensity calls out to us –
and we say it’s the urgency
of their call that moves us.

Why do we turn them into mouths?
About love we’re not certain.
But it could be there, we say.
We can’t exclude love,
and yet, we don’t want to mention it.
That would be too much:
a living flame of love,
or even, the intensity of the poppies’ love
No, we say, no.
But the poppies do call us.