Night Poem XIV

I don’t want this voice of day
to follow me into the night.
I want a cabin in a clearing
beneath the broken river of stars,
far from love.
I am exhausted by my failed plans,
and the grandiosity of my youth,
my shadow like a wet and miserable dog.
In a clearing by a cabin
deep in the mountains,
there is a hole, deep and wide,
where I will bury the weight of this body.
And then I will give the stone my name
and toss it into the broken river.
And I will ply the bandit’s trade
with the outlawed night,
and like a stolen heart,
I will never return.

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Night Poem XIII

You, my most terrifying friend,
I have needed you before all others.
When the women in my life
pained me with a broken shard of perfume,
I sought you in the moonlit streets,
and we would converse
in wide arcs of anger and solitude.
Being a morose man, I needed your dark humour.
And when the world took its too solid forms,
as if to spite me,
and the day threatened me with
a well laid plan,
I would come to you,
my oldest, most terrible friend,
wine bottle tucked under my sleeve,
ready to erase the edges of what I was becoming,
and you would remind me of what is essential;
the absurdity of the moon,
the chaos in my heart.

The Tiger

I was magnificent,
the perfected mane
of a dark and menacing wind,
a fierce love that
stalked in the tall blades.
Nothing was more perfect
than my hunt,
the prey that fell to me,
like devoured kingdoms.
And though I killed,
I bore no grudges,
because in me
the recurring seasons of blood,
returned,
in me all striving remembered itself,
and life attained its
burning form.

When the Tigers are Gone

No one mourned the passing of the tiger
in the expanding towns
that lay heavy like a carcass
on his old hunting grounds.
And now there are no more man-eaters
and no more gods,
and hollowed of their ancient fears,
the townsmen are slow and sad.
The festivals of hysteria are all gone,
the nights when women told stories
to terrified children are all gone.
When the last one fell
in the dust of a dying world,
the stripes burned to the souls
of all the people,
fled to the lost grasslands,
unseen forever.

Tigers in a Circus

Under the glaring lights
of the big parade tent
the tigers seem larger than life,
arranged on pedestals
like giant wind-up toys.

And some growl
beneath white-plumed chests,
and some gaze off, that way,
bored by the arrogant tamer’s antics
for the popcorn munching crowds.

A crack of the whip
and one tiger rears up on hind legs,
makes a praying gesture,
while little boys in sailor suits hiss
as a tigress leaps,
through her flaming hoop.

The kaleidoscopic pageantry
of sparks of orange and black,
the white of bared teeth,
the amber of sullen, ferocious eyes,
revolving round the black figure’s
outstretched arms,
as though he held a
captured fear by its strings.

But suddenly, one breaks ranks
and lunges, swipes,
roars the untranslatable rage,
and in a split second the whip
cracks down.
The unspoken, wished-for thing
flashes on the watchers’ faces

like a gasp,
and a little girl,
clutching cotton candy,
buries her face in her mother’s blouse,
terrified by this freedom
made to dance for
these tamed souls.

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.

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.