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.

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.