Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Poem for Taslima Nasreen

Amelia Walker

Taslima, your image floats acrnoss newspapers and magazines
- Hide quoted text -like smoke from a distant blaze:a sooty whisper, an SOS signal-or the last gasp of a funeral pyre?
- Hide quoted text -
"Don't read that book"* said the man at the café,
"it's all lies and filth about violence and rape".
He wasn't talking about the pages in my hands.
Those pages mentioned rape, among many horrors,but the main thing I read was a story,a story about a young man,an idealistic young man who diednot physically, but within himself,who turned to religion because he'd lost all faith,who burned his books and with them his humanity,who became extremism, became all the things he'd feared.

The young man's father died toowhen he agreed to leave the land that was his life;his mother of slow suffocation,forced to change her name, her style of dress,in brutal silence, unable to muffle out her most basic of desires.
The young man's sister was kidnapped,her physical death presumed, never confirmed,never given a shape, weight nor colour,no date to mark and mourn.
In this sense she was the only one who did not die,but passed into a state of limbo-not gone, just missing-in this death she became more than life; she became hope,the only one the family had. Not gone, just missing: the same lie they whispered about themselves.

The family were called Hindusthough this was not what they called themselves.They called themselves human before all elseand offered the same compliment to those who would not take it.The family could have easily have been called Muslims or Christiansor Jews or Blacks or Women or Men or Un / Educated or Poorbecause it was not a story about any of these thingsbut about extremism: one path given many names by those who tread it.Religion is to faith as flames to a glacier.

Taslima, Kolkata is burning;Buddha-Nero pats his belly and dreams of oil. The heat makes my head heave, my lungs seizeas truth burst open like a Nandigram sunrise.
I choke on the stench of books burning, bodies burning. Meanwhile, empires are built with bricks of charred boneand I wonder, at what temperature does human blood boil?

Now it is you who has been chained up inside names,you who has been kidnapped, severedfrom your land, your language, your life,you who is forced to fight slow suffocation.
You are dangerous, Taslima, so sublimely dangerous,you who have fired not one gun,set not one fire. Those things are triflesin comparison to what you've set alight:all the weapons on earth cannot shoot down an uprising in thought.

Taslima, I was a traveler, choking on the strangenessof this charred city. Starved and disorientated,I drank your words like the purest, coolest water:honest words, brave words, unembellished, unrefined,written not for glory but from throbbing, explosive need.

Let literature be the mother river that floods out all flames of extremism;that nourishes cracked, drought-stricken minds and makes them lush.Let words of all languages be the oceans,
streams and tributaries that join us all over this earth;books, magazines and translations the boats in which we sail to trade not material wealth but culture, philosophies and thought.

Taslima, you are neither missing nor gone:you have written yourself upon me like a tattoo, a life-saving scar.You remind me of what I have not lost, but could,what I have not achieved, but could;remind me I am human, before all else,remind me why I read, why I dream, wake, walk, breathe,why I pick up this pen.

* 'Lajja'


(in solidarity with Taslima Nasrin)

Graceful as a knife, though the opposite of violence;shining, light as silk, though the fabric is plain: a small kiteis trapped in the tree outside my window,arcing, diving through the morning air.

A ragged wren: black gone grey, tangles and tearsit sports not as marks of shame, rather trophiesof how far it has flown – and through what storms!
Ordinary kite, extraordinary kite.

It must have been a child’s toy, seemingly destinedfor parks on sunny weekends, the cupboards otherwise; for clear skies, a charted course, string held taught,no suggestions of grey.

But at some point, somehow, circumstances cutor forced this kite to cut its own string; to jettison the greenof parks and weekends and cupboards; to soar beyondbeyond; to become a sculptor, carving nude forms in the air.

Such a small kite, such infinite sky, yet it danceda dance none had dared dream possible,built its new home on a gust of defiance, romanced cyclones,turned tempests into art.

Painting shapes of pure motion-emotion, arching like flesh,spinning stanzas of idealism like gold from gall, this kite
sewed the severed patches of humanity’s truth into a quiltso hideously beautiful it burned the eye.

Now it is caught again, snagged by branches,yet with what small string it has it keeps on dancing,keeps on daring; even in breezeless moments, it jigglesits head as if to say no, as if to laugh.

It will not stay trapped long, will not wither like the leaves.Any moment, this kite will corkscrew up!up!up!will dance more wildly than ever before,carve its gleaming red stanzas into the pale blue flesh of thought.



A Bengal Tyger Pacing Her Cage

                                                              (for Taslima Nasrin)

“Ring O ye tongues of the world for their woe
Ring out ye voices for Love we don't know
Ring out ye bells of electrical pain
Ring in the conscious of America brain”
                                -Allen Ginsberg, September on Jessore Road

Upon my own free will I enter
a tiger cage with a wild Bengal tyger
who’s been forced out of the wilderness
chased far from her beloved Bangladesh
no longer permitted freedom
to roam within her own native home…

A Bengal tyger pacing her cage…
A Bengal tyger roaring in rage…

She’s a tyger who speaks without trepidation
when bearded outlaws in flip-flops hunt her down…
torches blazing… just for citing Red Rosa quotations….
as if she— alone— had devoured sheep of entire towns!
A tyger who dares protest against gangs of poachers
who work long hours for foreign speculators
helping them to plunder medicinal lotions
from the disease ridden bodies of endangered species
for the profit of their own vainglorious salvation…
Yes, she’s a tyger who mocks the most holy of holies
The most absurd of absurd superstitions!

Roving make-shift bands
of white smock fanatics
wish to string her neck
high upon the scaffold
after ramming the heretic’s
iron pitch fork really deep
into her soft purring jowl—
as if it were still days of old—
like the Christian Inquisition
or else the strange fruit
of Ku Klux Klan lynchings.

Cousins of four messianic flyers—
true believers in a counterfeit Apocalypse
who crash commercial passenger jets
in the NYC Twin Towers and Pentagon—
these cowardly gangs continue to assault
tourists, travelers and workers defenseless—
ordinary people from all the planet’s religions
in what is claimed “an eye for an eye” but
which makes the whole world even blinder—
and who seek to appease their callous conscience
for what is really slaughter indiscriminate
in a pseudonym of blessed martyrdom:
A perversion of Islamic faith from love to hate…

Unreal horrors of bodies in metros exploding …
Now all the world’s cities in fear… quaking:
Paris, Bali, Madrid, London, Kolkata
Baghdad, Kabul, Moscow, Beslan, Casablanca,
Islamabad, Mumbai and Dhaka!!!

“Through learned and laborious years”
these bearded outlaws
(calling themselves “students”)
“set themselves to find
fresh terrors and un-dreamed of fears
to heap upon mankind…”
in Kipling’s prophetic  lines…

Her lustrous eyes straight facing me—
with her shiny coat of orange fur
black stripes crafted like daggers….
this tyger tyger burning bright…
now paces in her homeless plight
in the midst of an urban menagerie—
far away from bleak forests of the night…

But not once did she stretch out her razor sharp claws 
Not once did she reveal her deadly fangs and roar
Not once did she crouch in elephant grass ready to strike…

Eye to eye I hold out my palm gently
with nothing to proffer but lines of poetry …
She requests that I recite Ginsberg verse—
that horrific taxi ride of September 1971—
those millions of helpless souls forlorn
upon Jessore Road hungry, homeless …
those hopeless millions turned to ghost…

Those days of her girlhood when the beaks
of vultures spread the smell of rotten flesh
and the sound of bullets echoed in the restless
fluttering of pigeon wings…

I then remember that Beatle mystic
who pleaded in mantras for America—
as urged by the sitar of Ravi Shankar—
to help  those impoverished and lost:
But the promise of ten million greenbacks
for humanitarian aid and human rights
raised from that concert for Bangladesh:
All screwed up in a struggle with the IRS
over non-profit taxes and copyrights!!!

My own heavy voice bleeding hoarse,
I too ring in the darkest sub-sub-conscious
of America’s schizoid— really bipolar— brain
in hallucinations of parachuting clandestine
behind the northwest frontier lines—
killing outlaws with dum-dum bullets once again…

I envision America’s toy-like cluster bombs gyrating
the Circle and Cross with the Green Crescent clashing
eradicating whole families in the midst of weddings
the collateral damage of high altitude bombings…
The great Eagle- leader of the world’s nations- now balding,
giving free license to techniques of interrogation enhancing….
Swearing vengeance, those bearded outlaws appear returning
with their ghostly women in armored Burkas cowering—
while Indra and Allah seek revenge in brandishing
sabers of radioactive thunderbolts and lightning…

She then toasts to that
spontaneous ad-libbing
with a forbidden glass
of that most revered of Saints,
Vino Veritas…

A Bengal tyger pacing her cage…

A Bengal tyger roaring in rage…

Declared Public Enemy No. 1,
she is banned from her own home
for lecturing upon the writer’s podium
for daring to speak against acid throwers…
for daring to denounce professional liars…
She’s even rejected by officials in New Delhi —
that very hope of Confederal World Democracy—
as a way to divert political attention from land
expropriation and the violent repression
of those poor villagers protesting construction
of a petrochemical complex in Nandigram….

Though fierce and defiantly independent,
it seems incredulous that she— and she alone—
could strike so much trepidation
beneath the skull caps of such flea-bitten spirits
whose ‘mind forged manacles’ have led them
to distort such a noble and tolerant religion
and to make of her such an obsession…

Once again, as Kipling had so shrewdly written, 
The lesson is certainly manifest: The female
Of the species must be deadlier than the male…

It must be true, for far from her beloved Bengal—
and though still held tight in foreign captivity—
it seems so incredible, if not impossible,
that her tiny frame could actually be capable
of striking such dreadful nightmarish fright
into those hearts with hardening arteries.

Her real crime: To critique men in authority
who literally cower at her very sight!!!

A Bengal tyger pacing her cage…
A Bengal tyger roaring in rage…

Yes, a Bengal tygress defiantly tracing her pen:
Yet one more creature, fierce and unrepentant,
not willing to kowtow before a single person…
Now resisting a plot of extinction!!!