Can You Hear Our Screams
A chirping bird who ran like a deer
was how her mother described the eight-year-old
whose broken body was found in the bushes.
The day she went missing, the horses returned
without her, giddy with scanning the horizon —
no one heard their screams.
For every girl cracked open like a coconut
in homes, temples, palaces or public spaces,
hundreds more lie buried in basements and attics,
unmarked graves in gardens, forests and fields —
their souls crying out for justice.
Can you hear their screams?
When daughters disappear into earth, water, fire —
discarded at birth with the afterbirth,
flushed into toilets, poured into sewers,
disposed in more ways than you can imagine —
frozen in islands haunted by nightmares,
their prayers turn into screams.
No record exists of how many are kidnapped,
raped, enslaved, starved, burnt, mutilated,
left in bin bags, recycled with the refuse —
not in the national statistics, in gold-plated genealogies,
pages of misogyny in the archives of history.
Can you hear their screams?
The world may be moving closer to the edge
of reckoning as women keep marching
to the roar of injustices trapped in their limbs,
erupting like volcanoes that will no longer
lie dormant or become extinct.
Can you hear our screams?
Note: On January 10, 2018, an eight year old girl, Asifa Bano, went missing in Indian-administered Kashmir. She belonged to a community of Muslim nomadic shepherds called Gujjars who crisscross the Himalayas with their herds of goats, buffaloes, horses. On June 10, 2019, the men involved in Asifa’s rape and murder were convicted for life. Her brutal rape and murder, the discovery of her body a week later, brought into focus not just the fault lines between Hindu-majority Jammu and the Muslim-majority Kashmir, but also the culture of sexual violence against females in India and other parts of the world. Preference for boys in India and China resulted in a massive programme of abortion of girls. In several African countries, female genital mutilation is common. Girls are consistently the victims of infanticide, sexual violence, honour killings; poorer access to nutrition, education, medical care, etc. is widely prevalent. Even in developed countries, violence against women is endemic. No data exists to indicate the kinds of abuse that girls/women experience on a daily basis, globally.
Home is not a country or postcode,
more a state of mind, keeper of the map of my world —
offering a hint of the distance between myself
and the silence out there, the way life reaches
for light, and rays leaning like ladders against the sky
invest my journey with meaning.
The universe never seems to tire of change,
making itself new, daring me to the challenge.
Time holds my life up against the light,
a tapestry, tattered though richly embroidered —
leaving me with a fresh measure of myself.
No longer sure of anything — even the hands
of my grandfather clock run faster beneath the dust
with each passing season — my body conspires
to slow me down, show me things I’ve never seen
though they’ve always been there, camouflaged.
Living in doubt and darkness is human,
what redeems is the seeing and being seen.
After all this time to be none the wiser
about one’s purpose for being here
is a paradox of many worlds —
the ability to be dead and alive until observed.
To be touched with tenderness,
the curve of your thoughts explored,
shapes they sing in, syllables uttered,
meanings inhaled the way elephants
smell water from a distance.
If only words were licked, turned over,
nuzzled as a matriarch might linger
on the bare bones of an ancestor
lost in a deep, long meditation on a half-
recognised kingdom, every desire a covenant,
when the herd stop to mourn one of their own,
scan the horizon lit by distant flashings
from the past, reading the land as they rumble
on with their journey to a new home.
Only she with the majestic tusks pauses
to taste sorrow, celebrate the chance encounter,
stroking, twirling, twisting, feeling,
her sensitive trunk caressing the carcass
as a blind person memorises a face,
touching, smelling, kissing, holding
on to memories that travel from bone to bone
like words from mouth to mouth.
In the middle of life’s trials and upheavals,
I was saved by placing my trust in love —
my heart on a swing, touching the sky.
Anchoring my faith in truth —
Truth being nobody’s fool —
not a god defaced by humans,
pretending to speak nothing but the truth
spouting lies and half-truths —
I survived the reversals of fortune.
Truth is precious — a terrible beauty
easily misunderstood —
needs to be protected by an army of lies.
A mirror where you see your own image,
truth is what we see; we see what we want to see,
and see only what we are meant to see.
It’s in the nature of truth that we fail
to grasp its ineffable, unfathomable mystery —
one person’s truth becoming another’s illusion.
If we had the wisdom to accept things we don’t know —
there being no way of knowing what we don’t know;
if we try not to destroy what we don’t know,
it would change us and the world.
There will always be things we don’t know,
infinitely more than the things we do —
yet that is the greatest miracle of all
that truth and love will always set us free.
(With acknowledgement to Hugo Williams)
Don’t look down, hold exact location
of your life within a single action.
Face against the sun, famous in that air,
you can see every leaf, life from up there.
Accidents will happen, smiles turn into frowns
as your words go crashing down among the clowns.
You sharpen your faculties once more
covered with sentences, images of lovers galore —
watch yourself, no more stage struck, unlocking a door.
Right moments as you know don’t happen
if wrong ones are never taken.
The best in us is what we do in an
emergency, not later seeking clemency.
Forced to find faith in a crisis,
open yourself to poetry like passion,
the instinct of a jackal following his lion.
For that is happiness: to wander alone facing oneself,
not one’s reflection rising from the brilliance of surfaces.
Accepting loss, becoming part of a stillness,
lost among the submarine silence of stones,
ghosts of temples shining perfect,
when time runs out on you and you are too late
caught between the featureless and infinite
to shut the cupboard that contains the sea —
ancient symbols of fortune your key.
You disappear into the desert of dreamtime
knowing what manner of a human you have been.
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