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Poem (for my Father)

With my sari hiked above my knees
I trip over a stone near
the street. The blood trickles
from one knee in a thin stream.
Outside the gate the men carrying
their burden of death
stop and rest.

She is Durga the terrible one,
Kali, the Black Mother,
her title --
the ferry across the ocean of existence.
Her long tongue is red with human blood.
She wears a girdle of human arms
and a necklace of human heads.
On either side of her, her
handmaidens grin as they tear
the limbs of children, and eat.

I go closer,
I have seen her beautiful
by another name;
dainty and small beside her husband,
Those about to die wear
a look of indifference almost
as they fold their hands in that gesture
of farewell, or greeting or supplication,

Goddess, Mother, Durga,
before the rivers deliver you to the ocean
already red with the blood of Asia,
I offer you one bleeding knee,
like straws my last two hands

to add to your ten, My wrists
have opened and closed four times
so I could see what the springs
of my body generate, In my
time I have also known galleries
of angels and demons,
Lady of harmonies, couple
my north and south,

2

The air is full with the noise
of crows and caterpillars dropping
from the moringa trees,
and the evening sky is red with dust,
dust of the city
dust of the river
dust of paper mills
dust of processions and
pollen dust and dust
of Tulsipur,

From a neighbouring roof
a gramophone blasts out
the latest film hits
and from somewhere below me
a gentler voice sings,
perhaps by design --

What a stranger you are in your own land,
What a disgrace to forget you own language,

I have deserved no less,
Because of the malice
my right foot bears my left
I stay and listen to the end of the song,

Why do you drift through unknown streets?
Whose house will you make your home in?

The weight of the night crushes
your chest. Radius and ulna separate.
The moon passes through your eyes.
Father I am shouting
can you hear me?
The dead do not know english.
They are the true asians who lose
nothing but their lives and die
acre by acre.

You saw my fear go after itself
to learn the cause of all estrangements:
the first hunger and death,
What golden fawn, what book what
song could send me out like this,
cocky and dumb and so afraid?

You should have married me off at sixteen;
or if I was too ugly then
at twenty in the hope that time
would improve me: or if not then
at twenty-eight to an old marwan who needed heirs,
I had hoped to read to you
but my words are impaled in the silence
and only the centipedes moving
among the brown rotting flowers
hear the scream and are heedless,

In the first flowering of grief,
I believed in rebirth..
The second time the loam dries
and the scales fall from my eyes
I swear
to serve the sick and hungry,
to toil the land,
to pray to Jesus
and if I marry
to marry of my own people

and never go to America
or if I do, to throw myself
like a burning page
into her rivers of oil.
Certainly I will forget
all this foolishness of poetry.

I remain where I am.
In the dark sleep of August
your bones take root and seek
my house and I in my half
sleep, with one hear to the ground
hear the endless, soft hum.

3

Hearing 'of my arrival the squatters
wait burdened with melons and potatoes
at the edge of the forest.
I climb out of the jeep and go to them.
They see I am wearing trousers
and my hair is in a scarf.
They encircle me and salute me as your son.
The women wail and fall upon my neck
with their children, wide-eyed and shy
clinging to their legs.
Shamed already by their gifts
I do not tell them
I am only a girl.

Outside the circle an old man
with a stick in his hands
murmurs to himself,

The great man's son is always great
even when he is small
and the poor man's son is always small
even when he is great.

I see the circle tightens.
Beyond it is the jungle without roads
and soon it will be dark.
In the whites of a child's eyes
there are strong thin red ropes.

4

In the rice field a farmer points
to the elephant tracks and turd
scorched by the sun. A soft
warm wind moves through the fields.
There is a faint hum, a rustle
and my hair caresses my face.
I stand under the lookout from where
at night, the labourers armed with fireworks
watch for elephants.
But still they come
and crush the ripe grain
and raise their trunks to the sky
and glean the stars and feed
with the one hand which also
drinks and breathes and seeks.

A bullet would do the job I think,
or is it true
as it is believed in the Cameroons,
that a man shares his soul
with wild animals, a cow
elephant, his bush soul.
If it is true
they do not forget
they would trespass again:
move their great shadows through
the ready grain and repeat the motions
of elephants in flesh.
The ghosts of fathers and grandfathers watch.


5

I do not know how I will die.
Maybe with a gift of flowers,
my head in a noose of jonquils.
Maybe as I step out of a car.
Maybe,(it is often too possible)
by my own hand, shot, stabbed
for love or something hazardously
like it. Maybe even murdered.

My bush soul returns
carrying the cone and spearhead in my groin:
feeding in the cities and granaries
of this continent and shadowing
my hunter.

Who would want to hurt me?
This vast, black and kindly frame
that has stood on its hindlegs,
balanced balloons on its snout
and amused your children.
I have carried you and your burdens
and seen my body divided.
Here is a table from a foreleg,
a head gazes impassively from a wall,
the roses of my tusk grace a wrist, an ear.
But I do not come for revenge;
only to see the face of the hunter
and to reassemble myself.
If there is one here who knows me
give me the spear a second time
a third until I am
my own faintest memory.


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