Open Essay

Every Unbearable Thing

Rohit Chawla
Tishani Doshi is a poet, novelist and dancer based in Chennai. Her latest book is Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods
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A poet’s response to MeToo

SAY YOU BEGAN as rib or clod
of earth say you were blossoming
until someone stared too long
at your shirt and leaned in
unbuttoned pushed forced
don’t mistake me this is not
a poem against longing
but against the kind of one-way
desire that herds you into a metaphorical
dead-end alley and how this can
lead to a weakened epidermis
and despair and nights of howling
and who can you tell except
mother friend cat
while sky keeps on being sky
and streets fill with danger

say you survive and mostly
you’re okay because turns
out you can carry cauldrons
of hurt and your heart is
as strong as a giant carbon atom
say you gather sisters and tell
each other legends about when
women were keepers of the universe
when gardens proliferated
between our thighs and even if
we were hacked and scattered
over the earth temples
would grow from the bits of us
even the cosmos seriously
the cosmos stemmed from us
in other words we were
the beginning the origin of the world

say all this has vanished
like the great auks
those awkward flightless birds
mistaken for witches
say those legends have gone
into a kind of extinction
and we have grown silent
like an underground stream
and every now and again
one of us would amass enough
steam to plunge off a cliff
like a waterfall shouting a name
and even though the noise she made
was thunderous nobody heard
and she disappeared and we did not ask
where she went to or why because
heart atom danger
wants not to break apart

and it is hard to say
why our ears and tongues
went off to be pilgrims
in the valley of silence
without leaving a note
or how the thorns got
plucked from our throats
but now they’ve returned
we must make up the beds
and unpack the cases
we must listen to every
unbearable thing until we too
can name our unbearable
things until the sound of
unbearable is deafening

and it is like the fairy tale
after a long spell of sleep
it is wake up people it is
time to find our way back
because bridges are burning
and towers have collapsed
and some will say the witches
are returning but really it is the
world asking to be made again
so let us bring flowers let us
bow down let us worship
and reveal our scars let us.

(Tishani Doshi wrote this poem exclusively for Open)