Tuesday, December 18, 2018

"Ode to an Adivasi Woman" by Aparna Sanyal, Poet of the Week

Ode to an Adivasi Woman
Aparna Sanyal

Even bare-breasted, 
you carry the dignity of generations
on your collar bones, 
angled in your defiant chin,
proud and unwavering in your 
eyes. 
No small gaze can bind you,
nor encompass your reckless, luscious 
beauty, torn from strife,
born in dust, tears and wattle.
Formed of bracken and thorn, 
dark corners
and stabbing brilliance speckle your soul. 
Made and unmade in many blood-red suns, 
the grit forms your heart, 
the pain stains you dark. 
A white man labels you savage,
for the brown one, you are meat 
of a different kind.
You talk with so much reverence 
to those who abase you, 
even as your pearl-teeth 
smile to bear the pain. 
Carrying your papoose of cares, 
and a male child on your back;
the only sign to mark your eventual passing,
you wend your way, another day
to another field,
another sunrise, another sunset,
where 
passions that are not yours 
and visions that you never sought 
are fulfilled on this bridge
that is 
your shoulders. 
You have scrabbled for a voice
since the beginning of time,
found, then lost it 
in quick gasps 
and sometime-sultry whispers. 
In that voice, you have formed a song, 
from pain and planets 
and the repeated rending 
of yourself. 
But the cacophony cannot hear 
this fledgling song. 
And strained, once more you have returned 
to silence, 
but not defeat. 
Tamped down, but not abated,
you wait to sing another day. 
Your burr and thistle
makes you the dandelion 
that quivers 
and tumbles, 
but will not shed 
it’s precious grain. 

Poet’s Notes:  This is a tribute piece to every “lower-caste” Indian woman bending in the sun, careworn but not defeated by a rigid casteist hierarchy. She bends but is not broken. And every day she fights to live.

Editor’s Note:  While a powerful tribute to the perseverance of lower caste Indians, this poem could serve as an anthem for any oppressed people. 

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