–“Witch hunts are attempts by men to denounce the ritual knowledge of women and link it to evil.” -Witches,
Tea Plantations, and Lives of Migrant Laborers in India: Tempest in a Teapot by Soma Chaudhuri
I remember you insisted : the sacred grove virile, no place
for a girl’s bare feet. You hoarded language because you knew
words spin in pliant hands : bound, divined, grains of rice
scattered, lantern shadow shaped like a woman. & tell me
who had power first. Who turned walking home
into a setup. So you didn’t expect blood
on their calloused palms. All everyone’s trying to do
is survive. The trees hide such small chirpings, such invisible
animals—women catch or pluck what they can because they know
the berry & seed are no guarantee. Dupattas tucked
behind ears, who knew what fire they stoked & why—.
Mortals, you said they tricked the wisdom from you, said
when the river rose they drowned, but I saw their bodies
in the reeds, saw your bodies glistening with what you called
holy. Bhaiyas, remember : none of us asks to be born.
Raena Shirali is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), which won the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a 2018 VIDA scholarship, a 2017 Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University, and a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize in 2013. Her poems have also received prizes from Cosmonauts Avenue in 2016 and Gulf Coast in 2014. Shirali’s poems & reviews have appeared widely in American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A Day, The Nation, The Rumpus, & elsewhere. She recently co-organized We (Too) Are Philly—a summer poetry festival highlighting voices of color—and serves as Poetry Editor for Muzzle Magazine. Shirali lives in Philadelphia, where she is an Assistant Professor of English at Holy Family University. Learn more at www.raenashirali.com.