The Lover

In honor of Ambedkar Jayanti, we present this work by one of contemporary India’s most vibrant women poets.

Arundhathi Subramaniam
Indian
b. 1973

 

The woman doesn’t call herself
a saint,

just a lover
of a saint

who’s been dead four hundred years.

She doesn’t see people
on weekdays

but her master tells her
we’re safe,

so she calls us in to where she sits
her body blazing
in its nakedness

its tummyfold and breastsag
and wild spiraling nipple
reminding us that life
is circles —
crazy, looping, involuting, dazzling
circles.

She tells us
the world calls her a whore.

She told her master about it too
but he only said,

‘The rest of the world serves
many masters —
family, money, lovers, bosses,
children, power, money, money
in endless carousels —

the crazy autopilot
of samsara.

But you, love, think only of me.
Who’s the whore here?’

Outside the window
the sun is a red silk lampshade

over a great soiled bedspread
ricocheting in the wind.

Rain

Claribel Alegria
Nicaraguan
1924 – 2018

 

As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
Streaming
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
world
a voracious
world–abyss
ambush
whirlwind
spur
but I keep loving it

because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.

A Break in the Rhythm of Life

We present this work in honor of Buddha Purmina.

Bhaskar Roy Barman
Indian
b. 1950

 

When the world itself looked exhausted,
revolving round the sun;
when a bumble-bee sounded tired
of humming round a ternate leaf;
when a few fishermen were venting their rage on their net
– they looked fed up of mending their net off and on –
and when the fish were leaping and playing in the river,
sure as they were the net won t be thrown over them,
yonder on a field a serpent was shedding its slough,
indifferent to a group of women wending their way
across the field
and to a pedlar crying his wares along the road
that ran parallel to the field
At this moment, as usual, a boat rowed in
disgorged two men onto the bank.
A music strummed on a violin floated in the air for a while,
then rose up and disappeared into the sky.
Presently the men returned empty-handed to the boat
and winked at the boatmen to row the boat away.
Suddenly the sky got covered over with pitch-dark clouds.
The fishermen looked up and thought
there would be festivities of lightning
and the river would dance to the rumblings .
They prayed for the safety of the men on the boat.
In response to their prayer the clouds went away across the sky.
The fishermen resumed mending their net;
the world continued revolving round the sun;
the bumble-bee went on round the ternate leaf
and the fish were still leaping and playing in the river .
But the serpent had shed its slough and slid into its hole.

Ireland is Changing Mother

Rita Ann Higgins
Irish
b. 1955

 

Don’t throw out the loaves
with the dishes mother,
its not the double-takes so much
its that they take you by the double.
And where have all the Nelly’s gone
and all the missus Kelly’s gone
you might have had the cleanest step on your street
but so what mother,
nowadays it not the step but the mile that matters.

Meanwhile the Bally Bane Taliban
are battling it out over that football
that will bring the local yokels
to a deeper meaning of over the barring it,
and then some scarring will occur
as in cracked skull for your troubles.
They don’t just integrate, they limp-pa-grate,
your sons are shrinking mother.

Before this they were gods of that powerful thing
gods of the apron string.
They could eat a horse and they often did,
with your help mother.
Even Tim who has a black belt in sleep walking
and border lining couldn’t torch a cigarette
much less the wet-hay-stack of desire ,
even he can see, Ireland is changing mother.
Listen to black belt Tim mother.

When they breeze onto the pitch like some Namibian Gods
the local girls wet themselves.
They say in a hurry, o-ma-god, o-ma-god!
Not good for your sons mother
who claim to have invented everything
from the earwig to the slíothar.
They were used to seizing Cynthia’s hips
looking into her eyes and saying
I’m Johnny come lately, love me.
Now the Namibian gods and the Bally Bane Taliban
are bringing the local yokels
to their menacing senses
and scoring more goals than Cú Chúllainn.
Ireland is changing mother
tell yourself, tell your sons.

A Knock at the Door

Lili Bita
Greek
1935 – 2018

 

A distinctive knock
on my door.
I pay no attention.
I’m surrounded
by permanent visitors.
They lie on the table,
the floor,
jostling each other
for room,
sprawling shamelessly
resting their bent spines
and broken backs.

The knock gets louder.

I expect no one.
The tiny harbor
circles its bay
like a slack, half-opened mouth
where the only sounds
are the cicada’s drone
and the endless rehearsals
of the sea.
Even the mailman
is under house arrest.

Peevishly, I open the door.

No one’s there.
Only down the street
two white-sheeted nereids

skirt the precipice
of my childhood.

The Final Poem

We present this work in honor of the 10th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Andree Chedid
Egyptian
1920 – 2011

 

A forge burns in my heart.
I am redder than dawn,
Deeper than seaweed,
More distant than gulls,
More hollow than wells.
But I only give birth
To seeds and to shells.

My tongue becomes tangled in words:
I no longer speak white,
Nor utter black,
Nor whisper gray of a wind-worn cliff,
Barely do I glimpse a swallow,
A shadow’s brief glimmer,
Or guess at an iris.

Where are the words,
The undying fire,
The final poem?
The source of life?

dressed in time

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 55th birthday.

Yeşim Ağaoğlu
Turkish
b. 1966

 

she took off every thing that was on her
stark naked her body
save for the watch on her arm
jet-black wrist watch
so she donned that wrist watch, dressed herself up in time
like putting on a black cloak
the year was the space quarter, the season winter
the day tuesday
life lived on the spur of the moment as always
the watch works ticking on
her body works ticking on, forever alert
time, ever so abstract
now melted, dripping
as in dali’s painting
and where the hands of the watch meet
ıs her most punctual spot now.

Reading the Night

We present this work in honor of Thiruvalluvar Day.

Ashitha
Indian
1956 – 2019

 

So clandestinely does
the night sketch the night,
like the fingers of darkness
entwining those of the shadows
caressing so intimately that
one becomes the other.
some stealthy lines
drawn on the inner paths
forking in separation
touching or un-touching.
some specks of light
perceived or un-perceived.
some dark forebodings
of a fall or of death.
mining the secrets of the dark
should be a meditative act
like all robes unravelled
from the body which then
weaves itself on its nude self.
night should be made love to
so intensely as a couple
raining by themselves
kissing again and again
the drops of sweat
dripping from the bodies
seized by ecstasy.
night is a poem
written by a woman
with her head bowed
while black serpents

slither along her tresses
to be read only by those homes
that have turned insomniac.

I’m the Girl Banned from Attending Christian Religion Classes

We present this work in honor of Coptic Christmas Day.

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh
Egyptian
1984 – 2015

 

I’m the girl banned from attending Christian religion classes, and Sunday mass
Although I am a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus
In Train Station Square at the height of the morning
Even then, all the windows were open and the blood was racing the cars on the asphalt
The eyes of the girls were running in Heaven, catching the forbidden rocking chair.

I am the girl banned from love in the squares
I stood in the middle of the street and gathered in my hand the stars of the sky, individually,
And the sweat of the street vendors
The voices of beggars
And the people who love God as they damn this moment that the creatures of God approved
To crucifying Jesus naked in the crowded square on the clock arms as it declared one at noon
I, the girl banned from saying no, will never miss the dawn

Peepholes

Caridad Atencio
Cuban
b. 1963

 

Over the brief crossing of two silhouettes
the calmness of the one who shall die first.

Depths in the fruit’s skin.

A tacit movement at the shadow.

Courage as a punishment,
obligation turned into desire.

I’m not afraid of hollowness.

It’s a pile of air

The fire you watched…

Only the weight of time creates a deaf heartbeat in my brain.