This is a poem that I’ve had hidden away for seven years. It tells the story of my own sister’s divorce in Pakistan, and the response from many on-lookers. There were sympathetic words too, but they were mostly muted – because no one wants to be on a losing side.
What happened to you?
He broke your heart?
Took you for granted?
Hurt your feelings, left you? Degraded,
dehumanized, derided you?
He treated you like dirt?
It’s your own fault, you know that, right?
Did you provoke him?
Did you annoy?
Did you disobey him?
Refuse him sex?
Did you frown? Were you sad?
Depressed, anxious, insecure?
Didn’t you know he didn’t want to see that?
Do you know
he should see you smiling, ever,
always beautiful, alluring,
fertile with many male children,
a courtesan goddess-like holding
in many hands a broom, a pan,
a telephone, a brief-case, diaper,
a child, a prayer-rug, a delicious meal,____
And if you should see him whispering into the telephone
and you are not on the other side,
shut your ears and pick up the broom,
the pot, the child, and smile. For he is,
foolish one, after all, a man.
It is for him to hunger for more.
Isn’t it true that you’re a tiny morsel
and his belly the divine cosmos?
You questioned him?
Probed him? Why, it’s true.
It is your fault.
It is true what your in-laws say:
you’re a slattern, good-for-nothing,
your bruises probably of your own hand.
The black eye from his heavy fist
divinely inspired. He threw you out, well, woman,
what else should he do?
Does he need the dis-ease you bring?
Does he not have many more options?
Aren’t there many more downcast virgins
waiting for his gaze to alight?
Are there not hungry sisters at the door,
circling over your sky in wait?
Many more elderly mothers, waiting,
watchful, for you to slip and fall?
It is true then, I knew it was.
We all knew it was your fault.
Your parents knew it, your uncles knew.
Your aunts were happy to tell you so.
Your cousins’ eyes shone to recognize
destruction looming over your head.
A circus! A show! A tamasha! Look!
I knew it would happen. We saw it come.
I told her not to disobey.
She never would cook the rice quite right.
She didn’t smile at her father-in-law.
She didn’t play the game as we did.
She thought she was special! So what if he
did beat her, slapped her? How’s that new?
I never complained when my husband did.
I never stepped out of my house, or thought
to see a lawyer, or picked up my child
and ran out, bare-headed and barren-eyed.
I never followed him when he slipped out to meet
with a woman, or asked him why.
Serve her right!
Serve her jolly well right!
Look at her now,
she plods her way to work each day.
Courage? Diligence? Self-reliance?
Hah! All I see is a divorcee
who doesn’t sweep her porch every day,
who doesn’t have a front porch to sweep,
who doesn’t serve dinner to a man,
who doesn’t have a man to serve,
in this little world where to be is to have
a man to serve and to answer to.
Look at her children. Fool. She chose
to take them. Didn’t she know that they
are not her’s, and will never be her’s?
She’ll fail, we only await the end.
See them, hungry-eyed, look up
at uncles and grandfathers, see them look
at my children’s toys and books, the house,
the garden, the dog, the private school.
Shield the blessings that we alone possess
from their eyes, lest they snatch them away.
“Where is your father? Why don’t you have one?
What do you mean, he turned you out?
Didn’t he love you? Doesn’t he see you?”
They are like animals with chewed-off tails.
Don’t let them play with your toys because
their eyes are too hungry, their need too large.
In this world, where I have lived
and where I have died, a woman is death.
She brings death with her birth, and her
first cry calls upon her mother to weep.
The cycle of tears continues, they sob.
The wheel continues to turn. And there is
everything that I can do.
(January 11, 2001)