Pushcart XL: Raena Shirali, “Holi: Equinox Approaches” (poem) from Quarterly West, #82


                 –“Young woman attacked on bamboo platform in front of entire village.”
                 The Independent, January 24, 2014

         Palash, flame of the forest, unfurls
against morning: a signal as it begins.
If only to forget the women
we won’t speak of, we toss
powder colored with spring crops
& watch our bodies eviscerate
the concentrated tone. If only to celebrate,
we look, for a day, past
the fire our kin have lit—blaze that chases
young women into alleys, or out
of this nation. If only to watch these bodies—only

~~ Complete poem available online at Quarterly West

First, read the news account of the incident that triggered this poem. Then, read the complete poem.

There’s nothing I can really add. Oh, I can fill in a few details (Holi is the spring Festival of Colors, a playful celebration involving throwing colors at anyone within range) (her crime was in being seen with a Muslim man) (the rape was ordered by the village council in lieu of a fine she could not pay) (India’s Supreme Court pronounced the rape “disturbing”) (enjambment is used brilliantly) (one truly outraged blogger asked, among other things, “Should I write about how painful it must have been for a father to see his daughter being gang-raped in front of the whole village because he didn’t have enough money to save his daughter?” ) (palash is a flower ground up to make some of the colors for the Holi celebration) (the woman was hospitalized in serious condition) (the rapists were sentenced to 20 year prison terms) (I can find no indication of how the woman is doing) but really, all you need is in the poem.

Although I’m carried off on waves of rage and horror by the content, I should say a bit about the poetry, particularly the enjambment (such a good word for a poem about rape). The first stanza ends with forgetting the women (I wonder what happened to her after she left the hospital) then completes the thought, specifying which women we will forget: the one we won’t speak of, not because of what she did, but because of the ugliness of what was done to her (although that distinction will be lost as it is for the American college student who, when she reports a rape, is asked what she was wearing that night before the rapist is sentenced to six months so as not to disrupt his life too much). Then there’s the inter-stanza enjambment again of “into the alleys, or out / of this nation” which uses the force of “in or out” (oh, god, the violence encoded here through language) to carry the momentum through, then twists the sense to show how serious this is.

         If only I could tuck a jacaranda
flower behind her ear, place dried tea leaves
in her hands, ask that she color her flesh
back again….


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