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.

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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.