• Nisha

"When Mark Connolly Asks Me Why The Revolution Has To Be Violent"

I think of the hot oil that splashed back and made a canvas of my mother’s skin

painting itself into her portrait, how her reflection in the drive thru looked nothing like her name

on the thick parchment of a dirtied university degree that shredded itself when crossing the border

and I tell him that that, too, was a violence

as if the unfinished story of my name that once twisted my own tongue in a kindergarten classroom isn’t a revolution

and I live in a bus driver’s riding, a man once imprisoned

who spent years carting sardharjees to millwoods town center

and teenage girls on an express to millgate

how we applaud the scars of his longing for life

as if his story, too, was not a violence

when mark connolly asks why the revolution has to be violent

I think about clean council carpets and stainless steel sinks that have never drowned anything that needed it

fridges in suburban houses two miles past the henday that know how to keep cool when my mother never has

I think about a city with coal-mine arteries driving into tendon and ankles of brutalist concrete

and wonder if the humanities building at the u of a that stepped on my neck with its neglect was also not a violence

I can tell you for a fact

that no one that has asked me to write them a poem has been prepared for it

your worship, what did you get for christmas?

do the stars ever tell you that you’re safe

does my mother know I’m sorry

do my cousins know I love them enough not to write about them

I think of my mother’s name

how I spent years ashamed in the sandbox molded it into a square that fit like a noose on my heritage

breathed in pants, and I am taught that this too is not a violence

I think about my father, who made a home of a farmer’s field, of a cold prairie, of a hockey game on a car radio and landowner with a pistol that paused long enough not to shoot

how this was a gift that became my inheritance

I wonder if mark knows how deep our footsteps tread

every time we say treaty like we aren’t a genocide

I think about modi slaying muslims in gujarat and calling it peace and austerity

how kashmir bleeds and bleeds until the chai runs pink enough to sell at remedy

and this too, I am taught, is not a violence

in high school I watched the ducklings scatter like teen boys do

when asked if they love their mother

and the ones who stayed and cried

became a revolution

you can hate all the poets

call them pipers, call them siren, call them dead

we are the subway rats who escaped the poison

we are frozen brains and the harvested lungs that escaped the lab in pieces

did you know we shoot rats at the border

even new york lets them live

which is to say that no experiment in human frailty can stifle our song

and when a poet dies

those we love will hang our lyric on a cross and beg for absolution

I wrote this poem in the wake of a boreal forest, I dreamt of home

the power went out and we wept because we needed a break and didn’t know how to ask for it

and my aching rest while the world burns is also a violence

and if this is what it means to feel the cracking of the earth and do something about it

then I give my heart to the planet, let it consume the parts of me that are idle

the hands that are tied like a homeless man’s behind his back at the steps of churchill square

the stars will not remember my last lovers, or how they spelt their names on my skin

and held me like they were making a memory

and when the last dolphin in west edmonton mall passed away

we acted like his capture and his dance were something more than a violence

if I could have fed a nation with platelets I would have

if my body could stop a war, I would have

why is the CBC so afraid to give the truth a megaphone

is their silence not itself a violence

I hope that when the revolution calls my name

I will be surrounded by roses

so that no one can see where I grew the lodged bullets

today I go home and I learn how to load my words into weapons

today I learn how to make a home out of a war that has called for the best of me

I know to fire, I know how to fire, I know how to fire

with every last phrase that passes my mouth

my tongue pulls the trigger.

when mark connolly asks why the revolution has to be violent

I tell him that it is a privilege not to know

that it already is.

Nisha Patel is Edmonton's 8th poet laureate, and the 2019 Canadian Individual Slam Champion. She presented this poem to Council on July 16th, 2019 as part of her first reading of her two-year term. You can follow her everywhere @anothernisha.


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