I wrote this poem in 2008 and found myself looking for it last month because of how it resonates so strongly as Karachi has become engulfed in flames again in the last 2 months. Reading #karachi on Twitter is like walking on coals of fire. every piece of news sets in a new yet very familiar kind of pain.
For years the news on Pakistan was my connection, my “feed”, as I lived in different cities across North America. For years, I thought that I would never move back to Karachi. And now that I’m back, more than 2 years later it is starting to feel as if we are finally reaching the surface of the deepest bottom I can remember in my lifetime.
Yet I have an infinite amount of trust in life now and hope for the future that I didn’t have before. a lot more than most others in my city, and a lot less than many others too. I know that whenever we reach the lowest point it is also the biggest opening for real change to come through. so I always center in on that realization and focus on prayer. I pray for Karachi, for all of us who live here, for all of us whose families live here, for all of those who are losing loved ones to this senseless violence I offer my heart full of peace and my warm embrace. for now, at least, that is what makes most sense to me.
November 2008 (around when the Mumbai attacks happened)
How do I open the pages that I’ve kept in for so long?
On the streets,
and the places of familiar,
like beats of my drumming heart.
I try to keep myself back,
Blinking wetness away
and brushing it aside.
Keep it at a distance,
Try to make it something removed,
As if no part of this grieving is mine.
* * *
but trauma has no boundary –
spaces of thousands of miles
and times of millions of minutes,
* * *
A knot of stone is stuck
In the left part of my heart.
I feel its oddly shaped contours,
Sense its pervasiveness.
Yet my trauma has no name
It has no place
It has only meaning
It is shared and it is distributed
It is mine and theirs,
But how can it just be?
* * *
Where do we go from here?
My road doesn’t cross this road
Except in the sense of a past
this past that is my being
this past that is my person
It is my way of knowing that I am me
What I dream of, what I think of
* * *
What is it about trauma that inspires me so?
What is it about grief that makes me turn to these pages?
Am I hollow without recluse,
Taking the chance to return to empty words
My Way of keeping distance?
I remember distinctly the feelings of hopelessness and despair as I used to open up the news on my computer every morning. I remember vividly the nagging emptiness, not knowing how to help, not knowing when things would change, how they would, and the continuous fascination with how violence and trauma live and breathe in us. Memories are powerful, and experiences of loss, challenge and violence are even more powerful. Working with many survivors of trauma while living in Toronto, people who had suffered all kinds of atrocities, I was given my lifeline of hope in my personal despair about Pakistan. I would see their smile and wonder, how is it that they can still smile? I would see their clothes, and wonder, how is it that they can still dress so nicely? I would listen to their words, and wonder, how is it that they can still believe? And now again as I search the eyes of my city, I wonder, how is that you survive, again and again?
Quietly I remember all those who taught me the amazing resilience and strength of the human spirit. Thank you.
Be safe and be strong Karachi.