Sunday, 27 July 2008

another country

I live on the side of the Downs in Bristol, and if I go to the edge of the gorge I can see over to Wales. That lumpy thing in the distance, which reminds me of a pilot whale breaching, in the slow-rolling Old Red Sandstone swell of the South Wales hills, is in fact Pen y Fan, the high peak of the Brecon Beacons.

Picture stuff out of the way.

A friend is having family grief consequent on her 'coming out', which reminds me of how it was for me a few years back, when it felt as though I had been marginalised and made into an outsider. Which I suppose I still am, in some ways, though I am lucky in other ways. But I remember feeling outraged that things happened which seemed worthy of outrage but were generally thought OK by the people involved. Like, "Why can't you see that this is so wrong?"

Speaking generalisations here, which is dull, so I'll stop.

I remember reading this poem by Imtiaz Dharker in a Bloodaxe anthology, and it chiming with me. So, since it's available on the web anyway, I reproduce it here, because it's good.


When I can’t comprehend
why they’re burning books
or slashing paintings,
when they can’t bear to look
at god’s own nakedness,
when they ban the film
and gut the seats to stop the play
and I ask why
they just smile and say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

When I speak on the phone
and the vowel sounds are off
when the consonants are hard
and they should be soft,
they’ll catch on at once
they’ll pin it down
they’ll explain it right away
to their own satisfaction,
they’ll cluck their tongues
and say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

When my mouth goes up
instead of down,
when I wear a tablecloth
to go to town,
when they suspect I’m black
or hear I’m gay
they won’t be surprised,
they’ll purse their lips
and say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

When I eat up the olives
and spit out the pits
when I yawn at the opera
in the tragic bits
when I pee in the vineyard
as if it were Bombay,
flaunting my bare ass
covering my face
laughing through my hands
they’ll turn away,
shake their heads quite sadly,
‘She doesn’t know any better,’
they’ll say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

Maybe there is a country
where all of us live,
all of us freaks
who aren’t able to give
our loyalty to fat old fools,
the crooks and thugs
who wear the uniform
that gives them the right
to wave a flag,
puff out their chests,
put their feet on our necks,
and break their own rules.

But from where we are
it doesn’t look like a country,
it’s more like the cracks
that grow between borders
behind their backs.
That’s where I live.
And I’ll be happy to say,
‘I never learned your customs.
I don’t remember your language
or know your ways.
I must be
from another country.’