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Imtiaz Dharker

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.’

Making Lists

The best way to put
things in order is
to make a list.
The result of this
efficiency is that everything
is named, and given
an allotted place.

But I find, when I begin,
there are too many things,
starting from black holes
all the way to safety pins.

And of course the whole
of history is still there.
Just the fact that it has
already happened doesn’t mean
it has gone elsewhere.
It is sitting hunched
on people’s backs,
wedged in corners
and in cracks,
and has to be accounted for.
The future too.

But I must admit
the bigger issues interest
me less and less.

My list, as I move down in,
becomes domestic,
a litany of laundry
and of groceries.
These are the things
that preoccupy me.

The woman’s blouse is torn.
It is held together
with a safety pin.

Postcards Fro God (1)

Yes, I do feel like a visitor,
a tourist in this world
that I once made.
I rarely talk,
except to ask the way,
distrusting my interpreters,
tired out by the babble
of what they do not say.
I walk around through battered streets,
distinctly lost,
looking for landmarks
from another, promised past.

Here, in this strange place,
in a disjointed time,
I am nothing but a space
that sometimes has to fill.
Images invade me.
Picture postcards overlap my empty face
demanding to be stamped and sent.

‘Dear . . . ’
Who am I speaking to?
I think I may have misplaced the address,
but still, I feel the need
to write to you;
not so much or your sake
as for mine,

to raise these barricades
against my fear:
Postcards from god.
Proof that I was here.


Did you expect dignity?

All you see is bodies
crumpled carelessly, and thrown
The arms and legs are never arranged

It’s the same with lovers,
after the battle-lines are drawn:
combatants thrown
into something they have not
had time to understand.
And in the end, just
a reflex turning away,
when there is nothing, really,
left to say;

when the body becomes a territory
shifting across uneasy sheets;

when you retreat behind
the borderline of skin.

Turning, turning,
barbed wire sinking in.

* * *
These two countries lie
hunched against each other,
distrustful lovers
who have fought bitterly
and turned their backs;
but in sleep, drifted slowly
in, moulding themselves
around the cracks
to fit together,
whole again; at peace.
Forgetful of hostilities
until, in the quiet dawn,
the next attack.

* * *
The place in the throat
where words are halted,
not allowed to pass,
where questions form
and are not asked.

The space on the skin
that the other cannot touch;
where you are the guard
at every post
holding a deadly host
of secrets in.

Another country. You.
Your skin the bright, sharp line
that I must travel to.

* * *
I watch his back,
and from my distance map
its breadth and strength.

His muscles tense.
His body tightens
into a posture of defence.

He goes out, comes in.
His movements are angles
sharp enough to slice my skin.

He cuts across the room
his territory. I watch
the cautious way he turns his head.

He throws back the sheet. At last
his eyes meet mine.

we have reached the battle-line.

* * *
Having come home,
all you can do is leave.

Spaces become too small.
Doors and windows begin
to hold your breath.
Floors shift underfoot, you bruise yourself
against a sudden wall.

You come into a room.
Strangers haggle over trivial things,
a grey hair curls in a comb.
Someone tugs sadly at your sleeve.

But no one screams.

* * *
Because, leaving home,
you call yourself free.

Because, behind you,
barbed wire grows
where you once
had planted a tree.


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