by Imtiaz Dharker.
One day they said
she was old enough to learn some shame.
She found it came quite naturally.
Purdah is a kind of safety.
The body finds a place to hide.
The cloth fans out against the skin
much like the earth that falls
on coffins after they put dead men in.
People she has known
stand up, sit down as they have always done.
But they make different angles
in the light, their eyes aslant,
a little sly.
She half-remembers things
from someone else’s life,
perhaps from yours , or mine -
carefully carrying what we do not own:
between the thighs, a sense of sin.
We sit still , letting the cloth grow
a little closer to our skin.
A light filters inward
through our bodies’ walls.
Voices speak inside us,
echoeing in the spaces we have just left.
She stands outside herself,
sometimes in all four corners of a room.
Wherever she goes , she is always
inching past herself,
as if she were a clod of earth,
and the roots as well,
scratching for a hold
between the first and second rib.
Passing constantly out of her own hands
into the corner of someone else’s eyes…
while doors keep opening
inward and again
Imtiaz Dharker “grew up a Muslim Calvinist in a Lahori household in Glasgow and eloped with a Hindi to live in Bombay”. This poem is taken from The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poetry (Ed, Jeet Thayil.) I will be linking the review of this book onto the about Poethead page, when it is published.
The image is from The Torture of Women, images by Nancy Spero and is linked at the bottom of this post.The most interesting thing about the Thayil edition is that women writers are collected and represented in that book. Those women poets’ voices are quite clear and lovely , rather than providing a simple passive objectification for someone else to write.