In this poem taken from her book Dimensions, Shahidah writes about her experience of women; birth, choice of sisters, womankind. Shahidah brings her early life in Pakistan to life for the reader.
I was birthed into an intimate space
Shared by two other women.
Into the long view
Telescoping back through the years
Of many severed moments,
Dislocations of time and meaning
From there to here.
I see our intimacy
Was only a matter of geography.
Tropics and contours fixing us on a line
Bordered by nation, clan and family.
From large peasant beginnings
In sprawling fields, chasing clouds
Through the broad village maze,
To the dung laced alleyways
The origins of people dash
In downtown ghetto quarters of Lahore,
We were moulded in the same
Rich warm odour of cowpat mixture
Straw-manure – for nourishment and fire.
Welded together for breath
A sweat and labour.
Falling loose from the nipple too soon
I did not know
The meaning of my hunger
‘Til there was too much loneliness
In the world
Sitting outside the fraternities
Of feasting, drinking revelling
We were never meant to gel
Only in the sisterhood of servitude
Our time together mediated
By the father’s wants, the brother’s needs
The husband’s will, the suitor’s gaze.
I came this far with sisters who
Were not the gene connection.
Sometimes without a word link
Women small and tall,
Broad and slender, masked and unmasked.
I chose from amongst them
Companions for the journeying way
But I carry them all with me.
The razored leg, the high heeled foot
The stubbled chin,
Choosing my family
Keeping the rest of womankind in view.
Shahidah Janjua (1949 – 2020) was a poet, writer and DGR member in Ireland Europe. This poem was originally published in her book Dimensions in 2014 and is reprinted here with the kind permission of her family.
You can find out more about Shahidah’s books, writing and activism here: https://www.sjanjua.net/