Conversations About Home (at a deportation centre) – Warsan Shire and Ugly

Poem: “Conversations About Home (at a deportation centre)”
Poet: Warsan Shire

Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, do you know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? When I meet others like me I recognise the longing, the missing, the memory of ash on their faces. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language. I know a shame that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget.

*

They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket. I hope the journey meant more than miles because all of my children are in the water. I thought the sea was safer than the land. I want to make love but my hair smells of war and running and running. I want to lay down, but these countries are like uncles who touch you when you’re young and asleep. Look at all these borders, foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate. I’m the colour of hot sun on my face, my mother’s remains were never buried. I spent days and nights in the stomach of the truck, I did not come out the same. Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body.

*

I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officer, the looks on the street, the cold settling deep into my bones, the English classes at night, the distance I am from home. But Alhamdulilah all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire, or a truckload of men who look like my father, pulling out my teeth and nails, or fourteen men between my legs, or a gun, or a promise, or a lie, or his name, or his manhood in my mouth.

*

I hear them say, go home, I hear them say, fucking immigrants, fucking refugees. Are they really this arrogant? Do they not know that stability is like a lover with a sweet mouth upon your body one second and the next you are a tremor lying on the floor covered in rubble and old currency waiting for its return. All I can say is, I was once like you, the apathy, the pity, the ungrateful placement and now my home is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun. I’ll see you on the other side.

Why this poem (in one line) – Going to break the format for Shire because I love her so very much:
Is this even a poem? I like the manner in which it breaks that boundary to speak about boundaries. What should a poem look like on paper? Should it be indented like a river in the middle of reams of white? Or is this it, this big chunky mass of words? And, it is personal, like Adrienne Rich always said, this is her story, this is my story, and the story of many women. I find it strange when the public, the professional, and the personal are not on the same platform. As though these water-tight compartments are created to not know about the other. We are making colonies out of our lives. Indra Nooyi’s interview, her comments about women and motherhood, have been floating around my Facebook page – what is this all? Who wants this all? Is this all a monolithic singular structure? It saddens me at multiple levels – on having a mother that tells you to leave work at work, and at home be you, is that other you – not you, and why does that have to be a mask, a role. There is a gravitation towards a non-organic way of being.

My favorite poem by Shire “Ugly”:

“UGLY”
Your daughter is ugly.
She knows loss intimately,
carries whole cities in her belly.

As a child, relatives wouldn’t hold her.
She was splintered wood and sea water.
They said she reminded them of the war.

On her fifteenth birthday you taught her
how to tie her hair like rope
and smoke it over burning frankincense.

You made her gargle rosewater
and while she coughed, said
macaanto girls like you shouldn’t smell
of lonely or empty.

You are her mother.
Why did you not warn her,
hold her like a rotting boat
and tell her that men will not love her
if she is covered in continents,
if her teeth are small colonies,
if her stomach is an island
if her thighs are borders?

What man wants to lay down
and watch the world burn
in his bedroom?

Your daughter’s face is a small riot,
her hands are a civil war,
a refugee camp behind each ear,
a body littered with ugly things

but God,
doesn’t she wear
the world well.
© 2013, Warsan Shire
From: teaching my mother how to give birth
Publisher: flipped eye, London, 2011, 978-1-905233-29-8

I got the poem from “CAH”: here
This poem was originally published in Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth (2011)
Warsan Shire Tumblr: here
Interview: click here (contains videos of poems)

Jilted – Sylvia Plath

Poem: “Jilted”
Poet: Sylvia Plath

My thoughts are crabbed and sallow,
My tears like vinegar,
Or the bitter blinking yellow
Of an acetic star.

Tonight the caustic wind, love,
Gossips late and soon,
And I wear the wry-faced pucker of
The sour lemon moon.

While like an early summer plum,
Puny, green, and tart,
Droops upon its wizened stem
My lean, unripened heart.

Why this poem (in one line): Considering the plums from William Carlos Williams were still on my mind and I remembered this poem with the puny, green, and tart (tarty) ones so different from the sweet and cold, also notice how the gossip and wind are beautifully connected.

An article on Plath: click here
I got the poem from: here

This Is Just To Say – William Carlos Williams

Poem: “This Is Just To Say”
Poet: William Carlos Williams, 1883 – 1963

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Why this poem (in one line): I first read this poem as part of my Poetry Class at the VU taught by Prof. Oostdijk; it was such a fun poem, like a note on a fridge magnet, with a punch line “so cold” – as though this (gobbling of the plums) was done so deliberately and not so impulsively.

Aside: Biting of the apple too (think Eve), you were saving those (that which belongs to the forbidden tree) , well too bad I ate them. There you go – so much for temptation.

On William Carlos William: click here
Wiki page of this poem: here
I got the poem from: here

The painting in one of the pictures (in this post) is Helena-Wagenaar’s “Eating-Plums.

The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop

Poem: “The Fish”
Poet: Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 – 1979

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Why this poem (in one line): What strikes me most in this poem is that this tremendous, grotesque yet homely fish (what does that even mean in fish terms), this fish, she lets this fish go, over the rainbows (said thrice, like a spell, chant) “And I let the fish go.”

More on Elizabeth Bishop: click here
Post on this poem, an analysis: click here (From “Some Observations on Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘The Fish’” Arizona Quarterly 38:4 (Winter 1982))
A psychoanalytic reading of this poem: click here
I got this poem from: here

The need to memorize

I am learning some of the most profound lessons from my son (age 7).
This morning I tried on an outfit for work, I looked at our massive full length mirror,

A: What does this look like?
B: It looks like you.
A: Do you think it is too much for work.
B: Yes and it is beautiful.

Today, off I go to work wearing my office coat with pure cotton, bright, block prints pants especially brought by Visha. Visha who says, “I found myself in the gaps between the written word and the unexpressed” – I am lucky to have found her there while poking around for wood-worm.

What are you working on these days? I am trying to memorize the seven steps to nothing. I have pieces of my heart wandering around – one bit in the south-east towards the sea, the other on an island, another in the mainland, another sitting at home playing on his iPad. Some day I won’t have tides on my forehead looking for the message in the bottle, “Tell me you are safe.” Till such time it is turning out to be quite challenging to note that really there is no manual to life, and there is no one path to the right (anyway I tend to be way left) (that was my attempt to divert towards humor – that I have learnt is a mechanism) (and that I over-analyze) (but I work in research). End of post.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 583 other followers