Cite as: Shin Naung. (2023). In the Evenings When Color-Changing Magazines Fell Into the Trench, I Knew Not Where to Look for Maung. Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 4(1). https://ijbs.online/?page_id=4585
Pronouns, how they’ve become lifeless, Maung
Life no longer lingers upon them now
A clod, which desultorily descended
At my scream
Fell off and died
Off into the memories of a blue runner.
To rescue the inflated love
From one mist particle to the next
From one molecule to the next
From one’s hand to another’s entire life
Inflated love could be
Obtained at Scott’s Market
Mists, Molecules, Hands Held
Would be sundered.
Cannot tell History
Cannot be treaded
Cannot take a human life
Cannot protect the Revolution
For one’s hand to be united with another’s,
The sovereign power of the State
Is not needed.
The clods I have been searching for
Are meditating furiously
What have I been thinking ?
Such a pity
Traded your arms on which I could doze off
With a war.
Not that I cared
That Dean Young passed away4
Pronouns have become lifeless now
I who was reciting poems at my own funeral
Was strangled by the vessels of my heart
In my sight
Military boots were marching toward the soundproof halls.
Who is responsible for families
Torn and tattered?
One day though, the due price shall be
Only History can tell History
Only the crossroad can take a walk
Only a human life can take a human life
Only the Revolution can protect the Revolution
And the sovereign power of the State
Is capable of uniting two hands
“Church towers— what a good hiding place for a slaughterhouse.”5
As I rushed through Dean Young’s night,6
Was vomiting kamma and kamma-phala dhamma8
While being opulent
(Further discovery of facts at hand proves that oranges are indeed symbols of the counter-revolution)
Now the con artists9 have all left the Parliament.
I eventually learned
Just at a distance of a mist particle
Was never beyond Being itself
Just how difficult to attain10
Our homeward steps were.
1 The author’s name is a construction of two feminine names: in their own words, “Because I’m gay and a part of me is feminine”. The English translation and footnotes for this poem are by Myat.
2 The Burmese term for “ever-smiling” is amyehpyone, which in alternative spelling could also be a pun for “ever-deforested”. Myanmar has suffered serious deforestation in recent decades under military rule.
3 In this line the poet uses the gentle first-person Burmese pronoun ko, usually used by males to refer to themselves when they are talking to loved ones. But in the rest of the poem, the pronoun nga is used. This creates a brisk military tone, sharply contrasting with the gentle second-person form of address used in the poem: the affectionate maung. Usually, in a heteronormative setting, the form of address maung is spoken by a person using the feminine pronoun kyanma for themselves. In this poem however, the poet self-identifies as nga but unusually addresses the object of his speech with maung. This may imply the poet is a homosexual man, but this is lost in translation without a footnote. English indeed renders pronouns lifeless.
4 Dean Young is an American poet who passed away on 23 August 2022.
5 This is a reference to a Dean Young poem, Gray Matter (2005, p. 79).
6 A reference to Rushing through the Night (Young, 2005, pp. 88-90).
7 Here the term “orange” refers to a Buddhist monk.
8 This line refers to Buddhist doctrine that wholesome or unwholesome action (kamma) produces consequences, i.e., fruits of action (kamma–phala) which determine one’s predicament within or with regard to the cycle of rebirth.
9 Members of parliament belonging to the National League for Democracy and others are notably not spared from this accusation.
10 This is a Pali word in the original Burmese poem: dullabha.
Young, D. (2005). Elegy on Toy Piano. University of Pittsburgh Press.