Poetry: Andy Conner

Andy Conner
Test

In Bangladesh
The rains
Have washed
Whole villages off the map
As they do each year

In Sudan
Families eat nothing
Except the dirt
Which surrounds
Their shacks

In Haiti
Career progress
Is scavenging
In the dustbins
Of a better class of suburb

In Malawi
Children die
Of the disease
That killed their parents
To maintain a company’s profits

In Colombia
A small boy
Is forced by guerillas
To shoot his father
In the face

In Israel
Men of God
Attempt to prove that He exists
By behaving
As if he does not

Do you believe in God?
***


Exclusive

What’s my least favourite word?
The word I’d most like
To expunge from English?

Exclusive

Exclusive
Isn’t exclusively a word
It’s an exercise in ideas
To which I take
Exception

I’ll explain

Exclusive expresses
The ‘right’ look
The ‘right’ age
The ‘right’ values
The ‘right’ colour
And, exceeding all,
The ‘right’ bank balance

And those
Who aren’t right
Are left

Extraneous

Or, if you prefer,
Excess baggage

Explain, if you can,
Exactly what you mean
Exactly where you stand
If your expressions of cool

Extravagance

Extinguish
The warming glow
Of extended exiled hands

This exasperated man
Fails to understand


Please inspect
The expectations
You exhibit

Please delete
The exclusive expletive
From the world
You inhabit

And if I’m
Expecting
Too much

Please exclude yourself
From my sight
***


Sweeping

Auntie
Respected, rich
Humbles herself

Auntie
Knowing what pride precedes
Hitches her sari above her feet

Auntie
A forward thinking lady
Descends the stairs backwards

Slowly

Clears her mind
Cleans God’s house
For the pious
The tourists
The peasants who spend their lives
Swallowing dust

Not born to be a cleaner
She sweeps
Bare-handed
Right to left
Right to left
Gathering tiny piles
Of unholy dust

Each movement
Physically
A speck of dirt

Each movement
Spiritually
A broadstroke golden universe
Of love and hope

Sweeping
Unkind thoughts
Sweeping
Everyday sins
Sweeping
The one thing
No rug is big enough to cover


Outside
Sweet water reflects
Ten heavenly smiles
Nanak to Gobind

Inside
The eleventh
Pauses its reading
And bookmarks
The purity
Flowing in and out
Of four open doors
***

Caste in Stone?

‘You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.’  -Rosa Parks

As an outsider looking in
From the top of my ivory tower
I’ll come clean
And begin by admitting
White skin
Whitewashed
Darkness within
Deepened fatal flaws
On the Jewel in the Crown

But it’s not about the British
Our sin wasn’t the original sin
It was all institutional
Long before we visited
Before we took retribution
For crimes never committed
Snapped the trap door of believing
Down
Means forever down

Are the gods really so cruel
To cast it in stone
To decide who owns what
And what you’ll never own
Then to beat you with the stick
Of sticking
With those they call your own
Should you really resist
Asking them why
Exactly how you’re born
Is exactly how you die

If it is written
Then teach everyone to read
Let them see this truth
You should discard countless millions
Maybe half a billion
On the cow shit grounds
The tone of their name
The tone of their skin
Are a shade or two
Darker than yours
If it is written
Send the third-class train
With a single shard of proof
Their necks should be stiff from straining
At the cold glass ceiling
Reinforced with steel
Shatterproof

If it is written
Then teach everyone to read


It is written the world over
Children are our future
So, if it is written
Praise holy India for investing in its future
If it is written
Praise the angels have two years of childhood, to smile through milk teeth
If it is written
Praise the three-year-old breaking stones, who thinks she’s playing a game with Mommy
If it is written
Praise she’s forever spared the discomfort of breaking in new shoes
If it is written
Praise the holy mosquitoes for sparing so many from a lifetime of anguish
If it is written
Praise the mineral displacement of the mobile phone. What’s a homeless child, when we’re all so well connected?
If it is written
Praise the holy government of India for allowing its rupees to be spent in a toddy shop immediately before lessons begin
If it is written
Praise the blurring rivers of toddy. They protect the teachers’ eyes from focusing on the back of the class
If it is written
Praise the teachers who spare the holy rupees of India. Detergent is a waste of money, when the angels’ wings can be rinsed
If it is written
Praise the holy lumps of filth on the angels’ wings. If they only learn one lesson, it should be they’ll never fly
If it is written
Praise the songs of praise angels aren’t allowed to sing
If it is written
Praise the golden-hearted child who accepts the price of his actions in a previous life
If it is written
Praise the holy parents who warn their kids the golden-hearted child is unclean
If it is written
Praise the prepubescent children who despise the dhobi-wallah’s daughter for carrying menstrual stains


If it is written
Praise the dhobi-wallah’s daughter, for mispronouncing her name and stepping out of herself  for a second
If it is written
Praise the holy violent child who cleanses her of this sin
If it is written
Praise the child of joy, who sits at the back of the class, dreaming Bollywood escapes, as his feet tap the floor with perfect syncopation
If it is written
Praise the holy chosen children, who leap from their desks and beat crude rhythms on his back
If it is written
Praise the leftover food, praise its holy tastes of rejection and isolation
If it is written
Praise holy India for attending the United Nations, while tearing up its charters
If it is written
Praise holy India for having the strength to hold the lead weights of its own hypocrisy
If it is written
Praise holy India for grasping the opportunities of the twenty-first century, with the serenity of a wilted lotus flower

If it is written
Then teach everyone to read


If Steve Jobs had been born in hi-tech India
Apples would have rotted on the tree
Ideas fallen seeds
As this adopted son of labourers
Slouched at the back of the class
While his cider-drenched worm of a teacher
Slurs and burbles through the basics
Of reading and writing
Touching the minds
Of the touchable
If Steve Jobs had been born in state-of-the-art India
He’d have slouched at the back of the class
Picking at his insect bites
Wondering why the chosen fruit
Were taking so long at their calculations
This boy with no apple for the teacher
This boy at the zero end of binary
This boy with latrine-streaked hands
A windfall
Spewed and strewn on the ground
Driven to logic
By the denial of faith
The denial of hymns
The denial of Bollywood escapes
Driven to logic
By a latrine-strength wind
Driven to a cyberspace in his own mind
To be shared with nobody
Driven to a cyberspace
To escape
To escape and to dream
To dream and to create
Because he is not permitted to dream
In holy India

If it is written
Log out of your MacBook
Switch your iPhone to silent
And teach everyone to read


If Mother Teresa was born in Kolkata
She would not have been allowed to shepherd the poor
Shopkeeper parents
Forbidding her from blackening
Her pure wool hands
When there was money to be counted
Groceries to be stored
Shopkeeper parents
Thanking the gods
Thanking them from the very bottom of their wallets
For sparing her the curse
Of a worthless golden heart
Teresa
Traded to marry
To expand the family empire
Attending occasional charity events
Giving as generously as she could
To the mild disapproval
Of her husband
Who loves her so so dearly
But with the very best will in the world
Can’t help thinking about
The rise in commercial rents
Teresa
Mother
To three or four children
Who can be a winner
Will be a winner
Must be a winner
Three or four winners
Who picnic
In the Maidan
Uninterrupted by the unanointed
The unchosen
The unclean
Laughing gently
At Granddaddy’s political leanings
And a mildly dirty joke
The laughter of the chosen fruit
Three or four winners
Who need her compassionate touch
Every bit as much
As the countless destitute of Kolkata
The children of caste
The children of the gods
The children of holy India
Three or four winners
Who receive Mother’s compassionate touch
Whenever they need it
Without condition
Providing they are winners
Providing their hands are clean

If it is written
Then teach everyone to read


High profile news in Hyderabad
Hung around for a month or two
Then his body’s cut down
The press leave town
Today’s breaking news
Is you
Endless pages of funnies
Known as the personal ads
Who’s better at hanging a smile on your face
Than your own dear mom and dad
These two are your real gods
Stationed not so far above
To protect you from the evil
Of marrying for love
Nobody’s dishonest
You’re all trying to be fair
If the skin tone
And the name are right
Who the f**k will care
If fair is open-minded
Or purity of heart
Integrity and humour
Only play a part
In the minds of dreamers
But am I really to believe
Young Indians are so shallow

You can achieve your dreams
With whitening cream
Will you miss out on your soulmate
For such soulless obligations
When even if you survive the poison
You’re still not the real thing
But a pale imitation
Do you want this for your own kids
Will you bother to explain
Will you love them for who they really are
Or as the interest
On a transaction
Their grandparents made

If this is written
Then teach everyone to read


I could bang on forever
You could eternally endure
If your story’s not a tragedy
It won’t be what I’ve said
But what you do
If religion is an opium
It hasn’t worked on you
You’re restless
Not sedated
Use your energy
Light the fuse
Millions of you out there
Kerala to Nagaland
You think your life’s remote-controlled
But you can flick the switch to manual
Debt bondage to your elders
High birth means jack shit
If you can’t enjoy your privilege
You might as well be Dalit
On your own you’re petrified
Kerala to Nagaland
Millions of you out there
Just breathe and take a hand
It’s a comrade in compassion
Same mist in their eyes
Millions of you out there
Log on
Get organised
You’re the golden generation
You’re blessed with hi-tech
Phones
Tablets
Computers
Log on
Rewrite your future
You’ll hear puppet-masters screaming
It is written
They’ve all read it
Every writer knows
For your best work
You must edit
Do it for yourselves
Do it for your children
Do it for the pure of heart
For India’s modern vision
Do it for your peace of mind
For access to clean water
Do it for your deathbed smile
For the dhobi-wallah’s daughter
Look around the room right now
Are you really on you own
So what if it is written
It’s not carved in granite
But on sandstone
You’ll hear puppet-masters screaming
They’ll light a fire for you
Well, if saying no is blasphemy
Then Gandhi was no Hindu
Apple trees can blossom
Overwhelm the weeds
Let it be written
You’re the ones who plant the seeds
Let it be written
You’re the ones who plant the seeds
Let it be written
You’re the ones who plant the seeds
Let it be written
Let it be written
Let it be written
And teach everyone to read
***

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