Address before an Empty Assembly
It is enough ... from the day I was born
in 1042 ... it is enough.
My mother quickly voided her water
and when they weighed me I must have known,
(with the knowledge that has no mirror
and cannot see its own reflection;
with the knowledge that has no mouth
and therefore cannot sing or cry;
the knowledge without anvil or hammer.)
I was born
victim and terrorist
in equal parts.
because you are the only image of a God in this house,
and have endured the profanity of my Christian teachers,
by whose scales does one measure suffering?
If my redemption can only come through suffering,
let me be damned,
If my redemption requires the death of one other
or six others,
I insist on being damned:
a cockroach, a grub.
But I will not forget to mourn. I will not forget.
But I will feel no more guilt.
if my redemption cannot come from the work of my hands,
the ordinary breath of my small asian life,
by loving a man, by bearing a son,
by the presence
of friends at my table,
(and why not?)
of even my enemies ...
Give me the courage to use your knife
and furrow into the deep earth of my own body
and see with the eye of a grub, a God dancing like a God
to the sound of my mere breath coming to a stop.
After the first death...
I bring it all home.
Once there was a girl--
her soul popping out of her eyes.
She was so stupid that everytime
she gave herself to a man,
she'd say, "I trust you
because you are a poet or a liberal,
or if I'm very lucky, both."
Later she'd wipe off the spit
with a khadi washcloth -- (pieces
of a grandmother's sari
from Independence days.)
and she'd chant, "Bapuji, I'm learning humility."
When she went into hiding,
I'd leave the back door open
and a bowl of rice and lentils
on the kitchen table at night.
She began talking funny:
"I sleep in the bosom of my father
who is older than Abraham."
Another time it was,
I want to see your poems in the literary magazines of the US;
your picture on the front page of the APR."
She was sounding dangerous.
She couldn't find a job
and her poems returned with greater frequency.
I showed her the PEN ad:
Members pledge themselves to oppose
any form of suppression of freedom
of expression in the country and
community to which they belong.
"That's the rub.
What country? What community?
Forsooth, what language?
Besides you've got to be
in a non-Western country.
I've thought of going to Russia,
of changing my religion,
of writing to Jerzy Kozinski.
You have not heard of me. One
of the harassment tactics of the KGB
is to make one unheard of.' They
don't even put my name on programs.
That's harassment. But I am a very
important closet poet. In fact,
once I am in the West I shall be
instantly recognized as the matriarch
of the Closet poets of the world.
an endangered fellowpen,
Poor girl, and over 5 years of shrinks too.
How can anyone believe her.
11 years now she's been dead.
No one gave her a bouquet of white lilacs.
I buried her in two pieces
as she'd asked:
her terrorist western head
is in the front yard
among the English daisies,
the gypsophila and delphinium.
Her victim body is rendered to dust
in the back under the hibiscus
Twice a year
I turn over the earth
mixed with gypsum and manure.
The whole neighbour-
hood walks up and down in summer
She sings at the top of her shrill
voice ragas for morning and evening.
No one listens anymore or understands
those eerie microtones, so she sings
for me, so I will not
forget my name and what I am
or from where I came, and go
back to Shreela's
or to the table of contents