VERSE | GRIT

For all the women and the men supporting them; for all those who get up every morning and despite all odds make it through the day surviving, shining, rising. For the families and friends of Sara, Mahsa, Noor, Qurat Ul Ain and of the countless nameless others like them: your grit is everything.

When it’s been tormenting
Day after day. With no respite
And I just don’t have it in me to fight
To battle on
When I’m war-weary
When there is no end in sight
And all I want to do
Is sit in a dark room
And let its coolness shroud me
Until I can feel the hair
Stand on my skin. There
Is suddenly more to the day
Than the heaviness in my heart
And the endlessness of the grey
That has been flowing, gripping choking me
Keeping me doubled down on my knees
There’s more beyond that malevolent mein
Images, memories driving me insane

Now -

Now there is also something
On the outside of me
A little chill
A little photo on the window sill
Both pull at me in different ways
One makes icicles
That sear through
The magma that has congealed
Inside of me
The other makes my blood flow warm
Streaming, coursing through my veins
Reminding me that I am home
My spirit and my fortitude
Still cloak my shoulders
Strong and true
I sit up straight
As they reverberate
Through every atom of my being
And they chant
An age old song
Of others like me
Who’ve fought on
Their hearts fused forever
With the ones that have gone
And I know
That I’m not wielding my sword alone

VERSE | SENTINEL TIME

Oh look at that beautiful dragonfly 
It’s turning somersaults
It’s peacock coloured gossamer wings
Perfect; without fault!
But you didn’t catch the fleeting glimpse
It bestowed upon this scene
You were on your phone lost in
Digital worlds upon your screen

Did you see that butterfly
Just sit upon my arm
Brown and orange-yellow wings
It was full of golden charm!
You missed its quickening beauty
As it said hello and went
You were caught in your own loop
Eyes down, heart still, head bent

I had to hold my breath there
That scene was so sublime
The grand eagle swooping down
And then soaring back up high!
Where, where? you ask me now
As you look at an empty sky
You were fretting, agitating
As nature sprang her wondrous surprise

Glittering dragonflies, murmurations
Eagles in majestic flight
A shower of blossoms, a ladybird loveliness
Nature exulting in life
Magical, mystical, shimmering marvels
Surround us at all times
Some of us get to revel in their beauty
Some stay trapped by Sentinel Time

VERSE | STRANGER THAN FICTION

I look at the book
Have I read it before?
It’s a throng of short stories
My favourite genre
I took it from the shelf
In my own home
So it has to be one of the
For-sure-read tomes
Still, as I glanced
At the back cover blurb
Nothing jumped out
Not a line, not a word
I looked at its front
Multi shades of grey
The image glimmered
In its dusky array

I opened the book
I had to recall
A story, a plot twist
A mystery resolved
In the 267 pages
I held in my hand
So I started reading
Page one, it began:
That day Alisha
Looked up at the sky
The purples and blues
Looked terribly awry …

The rest of the story
Unwrapped itself
As I glanced through page two
Of the book from my shelf
Yes I had read it
The memory crept in
Of ETs and UFOs
And otherworldly things

Of skittering creatures
That had huge heads
Full of insidious plans
To make us all dead
Or not! Even in fiction
They were polite
Giving us choices
Being forthright
Choices! Forthrightness!
Now those are things
That are as alien now as
Well … human beings!
Laughing, I put
The Sci-Fi away
Our own lives were stranger
Than fiction these days

VERSE | CRACKED EDGES

I feel like cobwebs have grown in places 
Where once there were gleaming surfaces
In the sunshiny spaces of my mind
It’s getting harder and harder to find
The memory of that warm glow
I felt when I went about my day
It had lived on the side table
Near the vase of poppies and the picture frames
Now it’s gone, lost somewhere
I can’t find it in the haze in there

I can’t find the memory of the eagerness
That cloaked my every enterprise
That memory sat near the poppy vase
Both fractured, broken over time

I can’t find the memory of loving so hard
That my heart felt like it would burst
I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face
The cosmos would thrum in my chest and my throat

I can’t find the dream where I ran down a hill
And then went soaring up into the sky
On wings of quick-silvery lightness
Laughing; whooping with pure joy

Now that room of memories in my mind
Is shabby, desolate, decayed
I sometimes squint beyond the haze
Looking for reminders of earlier times
But the cobwebs grow in thick wedges
And empty frames stare back with cracked edges

VERSE | WHY?

Why? She asks me why do I
Not get to do the things that he
Does so freely, so independently
Cavorting with opportunities
Expanding his experience of the world
That we both live in; why just he?

Why? She asks me why am I
Held back by you and the others
The elders of the family
The uncles and the brothers
For my own good I’m told
Walled in like Rapunzel, from the world?

Why? She asks me why can’t I
Go out on my own. Why can’t I
Even stay alone at home?
Why have I been singled out
Among my siblings as the burdensome one
The ill-fated sister among the men?

Why? She asks me have you built
These rules to limit my existence
Holding me back, making me doubt
Myself, my being, my purpose in life
Strangling my dreams to always stand
Centuries behind a boy or a man?

Why? She asks me why are you
Complicit in this chauvinistic ruse?
Why did you learn to become small
To deliberately set yourself up for a fall?
You were better than everyone
A hero …. No a heroine!

You my mother, the architect
Of dreams, of hopes and even homes
Why did you let it all go?
Why are you expecting me to do
The same, be a wraith of myself
A fragile decoration on the shelf

Until I become someone’s wife
Until you can pass on the keys of my life
To someone else … to some man else
Why? She asks me as the tears well
In eyes that see the truth of the world
That see the expanse of her wretched road

That is why they killed them all off
The babies, the girls born centuries ago
There was divine justice in that
Saving them from a world that sat
In Judgement, in anger, in self pride
Over girls that survived the infanticide

Tell me mother, why was I
Born a woman into this life?
Why was I born into this home
My dignity defaced, my wings shorn?
Why do I feel like to get a fair try
At life, another life, I first must die?

VERSE | WAR

LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMLSPk6FW/
Cannons boom, bombs explode 
The world is the home of war
Lieutenants give crisp commands
To their soldiers, weary and sore

The tribunal sits in their gilded halls
Drinking their whisky tea
The senior most is ninety years old
The youngest is seventy three

They take pride in stoking this war
‘Tis the battle of righteous men
Sending sons and daughters to fight
While they cackle in unison

There’s chaos and killing; a dread that is stilling
The conflict they’ve wrought makes no sense
The old men don’t care, as war trumpets blare
Charged by the flourish of their pens

Soon the booming cannons and the bombs
Will end their brutal repartee
Of slashing and slaying - their bloody tribute paid
To their masters across the seas

The dead will be many, they’ll lie in the mud
Young soldiers from both sides, together
The grief and the pain will be the same
In the broken hearts of all the mothers

War is Jang* is война* is Guerre*
There is no pretty word for it
That can honour or extol or purify
The endless sea of blood it lets

As cannons boom, bombs explode
And the world crashes and burns
The inflection point for humankind
Is now at the cusp of no return.
Jang/ война/ Guerre: The word “war” in Urdu, Russian and French respectively.

VERSE | THE QUEEN

LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSdJxm38V/?k=1
I see her sitting under the tree
Dignified and serene even as she is encircled
In the cumbersome arms of poverty.
Destitution has cloaked her for many years
From head to toe it has persevered. But still
There are nuances of grace and light;
Of a decorum that has bested the blight.

Sparse hair is pulled back into a little knot
Threadbare clothes are mended and clean
Calloused feet wear leather sandals
Thousands of steps etched into their seams.
She sits there solitary and separate
Her expression is one of learned abjection
As she labours on in her enterprise
To live another day, to go on, to survive.

But every so often, when there is a lull
In the cresting and falling human swell
Where she sits, under the leafy canopy
The wretchedness leaves her face
And in its place
Shines a serene and quiet majesty
A poise, a stateliness
Quietly they still linger in her being.
Even as she sits under the tree
To beseech, to plead, to request
I can still see the queen.

VERSE | NO THANK YOU

“I love you and only you
You fill my heart in every way
I will be but a shell if you
Call it quits and leave me some day”
Said the man with the twisted lips
As he held her close, hands on her hips
He’d done this a lot and then changed gears
The words felt absurd even to his own ears.

She looked into eyes that were gleaming with fire
Was it hope, was it love, was it lustful desire?
The three entities then followed behind
As she walked into the space of her heart and her mind
There she sat them down, the judicious sleuth
And looked into their faces now lit up with truth
Hope sat there wilted, there was hardly a trace
Of sincerity and faith on its mottled face
Love was like a wraith of its radiant self
Like old dust that had drifted off of the shelf
Smouldering away in the furthest corner
With sly little tentacles sat covetous Desire
It looked at her trying to hide its true hues
But in the light of the soul that was hard to do.

She lifted the heavy hands from her hips
Bestowed a smile from her beautiful lips
“I suppose I should say a heartfelt thank you
But I won’t; those words, they just don’t ring true”.

VERSE| I AM THE MAN

This is for Noor, Qurat-ul-Ain, Saima and the countless nameless others that we never get to hear of, that have lost their lives to the shameless, lawless brutality of the men in their lives.

I am a man
I was born the only son of the family
I was born in the arms of plenty even when scarcity surrounded me
I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth even while my sisters shared the dregs of their copper bowls
I was born with the mantle of privilege and opportunity cloaking my lusty body.

I am a man
I grew up learning that I was better than my sisters.
I grew up knowing I was special.
I grew up expecting the world to be my oyster.
I grew up demanding that every whim and every fancy be fulfilled as naturally as I breathed.

I am a man
I know I am one of the special Male Fraternity
I know I have a world of unique advantages in my patriarchal homeland
I know that I can let my unbridled desires carry me on strong, brawny wings
I know that I can have anything I want.

I am a man
I take what I want every time I want it
I seize what my heart desires whenever it feels thus inclined
I possess by true means or false, whatever I covet
I destroy by any means I can that which I cannot have.

I am the man
I am the man who wanted a woman who did not want me
I am the man who was insulted, offended, livid at this dismissal of my desires
I am the man who then ignited the flame of his honour and masculinity
I am the man who avenged the unrequited heat of his loins

I am the man
I was born with the mantle of privilege and opportunity cloaking my lusty body.
I grew up knowing I was special.
I knew that I could have anything I wanted.
I destroyed by any means that which I could not have.
I am the man who ended her.

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