Running on poetry: The wounded world

Every morning/I wake up with the news/of bloodshed. I feel my body/desperate to know whether/I’m still alive.” Suman Pokhrel

When the mourning subsides, the sanctimoniousness begins. Amid all the profile picture and status message changing, the sharing of forwards and original thoughts, in the middle of following the news with the perverseness that often accompanies our armchair involvement, we try to be different. We sit cloaked in the anonymity of our faceless online presence and pontificate.

The terrorist attacks last week have opened up so many wounds — old and new — that it’s overwhelming to keep up with the chatter and the blog posts and the columns (this included) and the writing. So I choose not to. And, instead, take solace in poetry. A poem that was shared so many times is Warsan Shire’s: “ later that night/i held an atlas in my lap/ran my fingers across the/ whole world/and whispered/where does it hurt? /it answered/everywhere/everywhere/everywhere.

It is not hard to find poems that deal with conflict, with war, with loss. What’s harder is to find solutions. Terrorism is an intricate act, involving more than one country, more than one decision, decades or centuries of oppression and anger. What do we blame? Foreign policy? Porous borders? The education system or the lack of awareness? Economic inequalities? Nothing makes sense in terrorism.

I recall the abruptness in Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, ‘Photograph from September 11th.’ “ They’re still within the air’s reach/within the compass of places/that have just now opened. I can do only two things for them — /describe this flight /and not add a last line.” At least here, we can halt certain death.

In the sardonic, hard-hitting ‘Apologies to All the People in Lebanon,’ June Jordan enumerates ‘reasons’ for the bombardment. “(...)They said something about never again and then/they made close to one million human beings homeless/in less than three weeks and they killed or maimed/40,000 of your men and your women and your children.

The latest attacks remind us that much of our world is at war. Israel, Somalia, Darfur, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Russia, Yemen, Sudan, America, Palestine, Libya, Syria, the South China Sea... and this isn’t even a partial list.

In ‘In that Part of the World,’ Raza Ali Hasan speaks of Afghanistan, where there are 29 different names for the garden that children known by heart. Kabul was as beautiful as Leningrad, the Panjsher valley appeared strewn with emeralds. “ If only Gandhi’s spinning wheel had spun/a million yards of cloth/we would have covered all our war dead./And as for tents, we would have built/cities upon cities of tents to keep the rain out/for all our refugees. And then and only then/would we have mourned our war dead/mourned our war dead.

In ‘Museum of Tolerance,’ Michael Miller says, “ Pol Pot is dead, the children of Kampuchea/ reading again to go to college; Rwanda/has forgiven itself and opened supermarkets/the ghettos are demolished, the Cold War won./Sudan, they skip. For now, the beasts are gone./They face the new life, the one after the mending/after the last mistakes were made.” Even in our mourning, we are biased.

I read poem after poem dealing with conflict, the horrors of war, terrorism. Beyond the headlines and sound bites, beyond the viral videos, and the lip service, lie devastated dreams, wrecked hearts, and unlived lives of happiness. Hatred got us here. Hope is a place we are now at. And love (not just tolerance) and understanding (not just acceptance), will take us towards a better world.

Srividya is a poet. Read her work at

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 8:55:54 AM |

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