Saturday, April 19, 2008

Poem: Imtiaz Dharker

Photo Imtiaz  Dharker © Image: (Finished post.) Recently, I came across a book by Imtiaz Dharker (b. 1954-), The Terrorist at My Table, at a local used bookstore I like to frequent, and after flipping through it I found it hard to put down, so I purchased it, and I've been looking around for some of her other books as well.

I don't know much about Dharker or her work, but according to the Poetry International website, from which I've taken this poem, I've learned she's also an artist and filmmaker, and was born in Lahore, grew up in Glasgow, and now shuttles between London and Mumbai. She's the author of three books, and, according to all I've found online, they take up themes of home, exile and displacement, freedom, citizenship, and gender politics, among other ever-salient topics.

Here's one poem from an earlier collection, entitled I Speak for the Devil, which I check out soon (when I have a free moment): "They'll Say: 'She Must Be From Another Country."


When I can’t comprehend
why they’re burning books
or slashing paintings,
when they can’t bear to look
at god’s own nakedness,
when they ban the film
and gut the seats to stop the play
and I ask why
they just smile and say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

When I speak on the phone
and the vowel sounds are off
when the consonants are hard
and they should be soft,
they’ll catch on at once
they’ll pin it down
they’ll explain it right away
to their own satisfaction,
they’ll cluck their tongues
and say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

When my mouth goes up
instead of down,
when I wear a tablecloth
to go to town,
when they suspect I’m black
or hear I’m gay
they won’t be surprised,
they’ll purse their lips
and say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

When I eat up the olives
and spit out the pits
when I yawn at the opera
in the tragic bits
when I pee in the vineyard
as if it were Bombay,
flaunting my bare ass
covering my face
laughing through my hands
they’ll turn away,
shake their heads quite sadly,
‘She doesn’t know any better,’
they’ll say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

Maybe there is a country
where all of us live,
all of us freaks
who aren’t able to give
our loyalty to fat old fools,
the crooks and thugs
who wear the uniform
that gives them the right
to wave a flag,
puff out their chests,
put their feet on our necks,
and break their own rules.

But from where we are
it doesn’t look like a country,
it’s more like the cracks
that grow between borders
behind their backs.
That’s where I live.
And I’ll be happy to say,
‘I never learned your customs.
I don’t remember your language
or know your ways.
I must be
from another country.’

© Imtiaz Dharker
From: I Speak for the Devil
Publisher: Penguin Books India, 2003
ISBN: 014-303089-2

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