She Too Can Laugh

Her body is half decomposed. It doesn’t even look human anymore.
Age nineteen, ditch dead, semi-naked, eyes missing, broken nosed,
I tell myself, she doesn’t fit into my carefully normalized
upper-middle class, internet-and-coffee reality.
I have no words to offer her memory.
To me, she is just a 3×3 inch column in a newspaper,
a statistical number, a ten-second clip looped on TV.
She is from… Haryana. Bihar. Srinagar. Bhopal. Manipur.
Dharmapuri. Delhi. The next village. Across the street.
Anywhere but from home.

News is always something that happens to someone else.

But in the silence of the night – listen –
there is the ghost of her unheard voice – screaming, screaming and sobbing,
a burning song of thousands of voices – screaming, shrieking, silent,
voices saying over and over again, “This could be you.”
Whether I choose to or not, I carry her scars under my skin,
her screams under my breath, I fear the fear in her eyes.

I try to find an answer to that voice, I try to understand,
but it is hard to think of her as a person,
when the image of her bloodied face flashes before my eyes every three seconds.
I try to teach myself to grieve for this girl I never knew,
I try to crawl under her skin, try to recreate her reality –
I try to fill it with good things – sunrises and laughter and hot coffee,
I try to push beyond the newspaper article, beyond the ten-second video, beyond the screaming voice,
I try to see the girl who breathed, loved, and hurt
and dreamed of streaking into a horizon of possibilities –
I look into the eyes of the person that she could have been,
and I find more than just a broken bodied, screaming voice,
I find love and song and strength; she is stronger, deeper, brighter
than just scars and hurt, she too can laugh.

Burnt brides and schoolgirls with scars of acid on their faces
still remember to laugh, and the women of Bhopal,
afraid to have babies because they live every day with poisoned bodies,
remember to sing. The heavens thunder with the song of
mothers who refuse to speak
as uncles rape daughters, brothers kill sisters,
delivering family-approved vindication for
choosing the wrong person to have sex with.
They are not numbers, to be channel changed, page turned, dismissed at will,
they are more than a screaming, keening voice, they too can laugh.
On the streets,
girls raped in late night cabs, in the back of minivans,
girls shot dead in bars by sons of famous politicians,
girls threatened with marriage for hanging out with their boyfriends –
we laughed, right through the curfew on valentines day.

And every morning women across this country
wake up to the hum of these voices under their breath
take a good hard look at the mirror
and then go on to become suits burning with red hot ambition,
slogan-shouting tree huggers, mushroom-chewing hippy advertisers,
law makers, teachers, firebrand feminists, center fold models,
have sex, have babies, have careers, have happiness
and do any other damn thing they please –
Those scars are our story, they are our collective history,
but they are not all that we are.

I cannot find the right words to offer her memory,
but I wear her scars with pride,
her song under my breath,
I respect the strength in her eyes.

Written for Brave New Voices 2010 at Los Angeles.

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4 thoughts on “She Too Can Laugh

  1. I absolutely loved it. Reminded me exactly why I follow your poetry so closely. Its been a while since I felt so strongly but it was worth the wait.

  2. I dont get how people can love this poem with a jovial and carefree exclamation mark… It makes me stop and think, become numb, feel helpless, useless, guilty, but it doesn’t make me feel happy or like smiling. My mind brings up images too graphic for that

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