The world is hurting – there are wars afoot, we are still reeling from the pandemic, there is an alarming rise in fascism, fake news, poverty, hunger and ignorance. It’s time we recognise that it’s important to take a stand for human rights above everything else, for one can’t remain insulated from the divisive forces forever. This month’s poems delve into language, boundaries, borders, luck and hope – offering a mirror and balm both.
We Lived Happily During the War – Ilya Kaminsky
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
Could Have – Wisława Szymborska
It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.
You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.
You were in luck—there was a forest.
You were in luck—there were no trees.
You were in luck—a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a jamb, a turn, a quarter inch, an instant.
You were in luck—just then a straw went floating by.
As a result, because, although, despite.
What would have happened if a hand, a foot,
within an inch, a hairsbreadth from
an unfortunate coincidence.
So you’re here? Still dizzy from another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn’t be more shocked or speechless.
how your heart pounds inside me
Forms of Love – Daniel Baylis
Sometimes I wonder,
what’s the point?
Why be good? Why care? Why try to change things?
Why—when we continue to wreck each other?
Yet I keep moving forward.
Not because I am confident of any outcomes,
But because I am still susceptible to sweet things:
a cup of coffee,
a warm blanket,
the smell of lilacs,
the sound of my mother’s laughter,
and all the other common forms of love.
Sometimes I wonder,
what would the world look like,
if each of us decided to become,
a form of love?
Day one of learning Italian – Akhil Katyal
Before we learn the verbs for eating
or drinking, or the nouns for bread
and water, we are taught the words
for man and woman, girl and boy,
as if those are the survival skills
for the first day in a new country.
We step into a new language
through the Customs desk of
gender. I don’t yet know how
to ask a pretty stranger for an
address, or request bartenders
for a glass of water (or a beer!)
– all useful skills, mind you, as
first days go. All I know is to show
off my ragazza and ragazzo, la donna
and l’uomo. What is the need of
learning a new language if you
only confirm bits of plastic scenery
you thought you let behind. What
is the need to travel five and a half
seas to find new nouns for old things.
The teacher is impassive – “Why expect
a language to be kind on its first day?
Why make it into a djinn?” It doesn’t
live to answer some simple wish, it won’t
allow you to step out of every thing.
Mother Tongue – Kedarnath Singh
As ants return to their nests,
returns to the wood,
and the airplanes return to the airport
one after another
stretching their wings in the red sky,
O my language,
I return to you,
when my tongue feels stiff from
hurting my soul.
translated by Kalpna Singh-Chitnis/ via Daak Vaak