The Visionaries (For the Children of the Documentary, Born into Brothels)

Sometimes things force us to see
this life’s intolerable enchantment,
and how far we still fall short
of its primordial command
to be everything,
to be all things.

I’ve seen something that
opened me,
like a blade of sun
slicing the unready fruit,
that glistened in its pain anyway.

I’ve seen children, in the ferocity of their small lives,
clutching at cheap cameras,
showing us how much we could still be,
how young time is, even in us.

I mean the children of the ghettos of Calcutta,
of the sunless streets that
narrow the heart,
and the dead ends like so many short lives.

I mean how, against the defeated wind,
they too find a brief time to bloom
in an explosion of arrogant youth.
Suddenly this trepidation,
the ancient, anticipated song,
the shutter that falls before a fearless eye.

Each one will show us something new.
Each with their camera, their lens,
and the rudiments of vision,
goes out into their broken world
to find its unsought beauty.

And there in their images,
the depth of poverty’s heart,
the dignity of each sudden colour,
unearthed by its children.

How we feel shaken
by these brutal eyes of hope,
how we feel like all things,
like everything in their lens.

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Phoolan Devi

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From birth, caste encircled you,
a python entwined about the roots of the earth,
like a lineage of humid afflictions.

You were a lowborn girl,
which meant liabilities of blood,
poverty to your kin,

and for this, your first disobedience,
India could only offer you violations.

But the beset soul of the child,
instead of falling meekly like a shattered grain,
or surrendering to the high-born,

those who lorded their existence like a dagger over you,
instead of slavery, the child chose fury,
and the freedom of the bandit queen.

The world that encircled you
was fortified by the violence of centuries,
humiliating scriptures,

the proscription of dirt
that they said clung easily to your beautiful body,

but worst of all, the defilement
which they reserved to themselves like a proud insignia.

From this swamp of agonies you burst like a night of refusal,
and from the ravines of wind,
to which you fled with your clan of rejected children,

strange and joyous music was heard,
a music of emancipated hunger
that terrified the well-bred villages

when the clanging of pots,
the sound of rifles approached.

The defilers who had fallen on you
like a pack of dogs were wrong,

they could not teach you the permanence of their order,
their heritage of divided salt.

When you went from village to village
setting fire to history, to bloodlines,
the retribution of your dispossessed heart
swept the wind

and ignited the downtrodden in the wasted fields,
in the provinces of the suffering north.

Beggars on Lambton Quay

Today I will not speak of my impotent anger,
my self-inflicted indignation
when I saw yet more beggars
hunched like open sores on Lambton Quay.
I will not ask this indifferent and
preoccupied crowd
to feel pity
(enough with this pity which gets us nowhere)
for the ‘victims’ of the iron laws of economics,
or the erosion of basic social services,
these ‘unfortunates’ who fell
through the ever-widening cracks
and landed hard on their backsides,
on the pavement
outside James Cook Arcade or Cable Car Lane.
No, I won’t ask for empathy
from the hard-headed, practical crowds.
I will only ask that you view these beggars
for what they are;
the unflinching mirror image
of the society we have chosen to live in.
There in the slick and glittering windows,
a reflection,
the incongruous, squat figure and his cardboard plea,
the apotheosis of our cynical and threadbare
social contract.

Corazon Aquino

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They came in their millions
to Epifanio de los Santos,
and in their hearts was a woman.

They came with an angry prayer,
from the slums,
the neighbourhoods sunk at
the foot of horrific mountains of wretchedness.

Or they came from
the peaceful, palm-bedazzled barrios,
where anger simmered
for the shackles of the people’s song.

Rich or poor, in their hearts
there was a woman.

Twenty years under the dictator,
long pillaged years,
during which slums grew up
in the hearts of the people,

when the furtive promise
of the young nation
became the rot of the dead martyrs
exhaled from the murderer’s white palace.

And when her husband fell
at the door of the city,
a bloodied envoy of that almost forgotten thing,
freedom,

the housewife rose
and put away her gentle years,
because she understood, at last, his fatal love,

because she grasped now
how her grief seethed with an immaculate justice,
and the rage of a burning archipelago.

In the people’s hearts was a woman,
who they dressed with their songs,
the chants they hurled against a crumbling regime.

Against her, the tyrant had no weapons.
American tanks, American jets, American guns
could not wound this woman
clothed by the people.

He fell, beleaguered and afraid,
while the two million on Epifanio de los Santos
were crying, Corazon, Corazon,

for in their hearts was a woman,
and they surged around her
and lifted her up on their joyous shoulders
and carried her like an unchained dawn.