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.

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