Poetry

I AM A WOMAN

Riffat Hassan

I am a woman
with the eternal heart
of a woman
who, like Othello,
loved not wisely
but too well.

I am a woman
with the eternal heart
of a woman
living in a world
in which the rules
are made by men –
and where men can
break all the rules
and yet be gods
saviors and saints
martyrs and heroes
but where if women
break the rules
made by men
broken by men
they cannot live
without being shamed
slandered and abused
beaten and hurt
scourged and stoned
burned and buried
alive and damned.

I am a woman
with the eternal heart
of a woman
born to love
living in a world
in which when men
love – they are called
princes and knights
poets and mystics
or at the worst – perhaps – lunatics;
but when women love
then love becomes
a mortal sin
for which they must
give up their life –
for when a woman
is guilty of
a mortal sin
- the sin of loving –
then she must die
so that the jealous
god of love
may be at peace.

I am a woman
with the eternal heart
of a woman
living in a world
in which there are
a number of men
and also some women
who cannot love;
and since love is
what makes us human
and gives us life
these men and women
are callous and cold,
cruel and cowardly
though they wear
the masks of sages
and madonnas
and cherubs;
and they are always
ready to strike
my eternal heart
because I dare
to live and love.

I am a woman
with the eternal heart
of a woman
who has endured
so many births
and so many deaths
so that the seed
of life and love
may not be
destroyed by those
who in the name
of god of love
who does not love
want to create
a loveless world
a lifeless world
full of tombs
where one cannot hear
the sound of life –
the laughter of
a little child
warm from the womb
who wants to live
and wants to love
and to whom
an eternal-hearted woman
is what god should be.

I am a woman
with the eternal heart
of a woman
the bearer of life
the nurturer of life
the protector of life
I can give life
because I am not
afraid of pain
for I know that love
is always pain
even joyful love
is ringed with pain
and no one can love
who cannot embrace
with heart and soul
the pain of living
the pain of loving.

I am a woman
with the eternal heart
of a woman
and I can suffer
again and again
the pain of loving
men and women
who do not love
who will tear
my heart and soul
to little shreds
and who will put
my life-carrying body
upon death’s bed
in order to placate a god
who says he is
the god of love
but who abhors
both life and love
and who demands
a sacrifice
- my sacrifice -
and says that I
must slaughtered be
just like an animal
helpless and trapped
whose blood is spilled
so that the sins
of those who kill
may be forgiven.

I am a woman
with the eternal heart
of a woman
and though I may be
tormented and abandoned
dishonored and disowned
scourged and flogged
stoned and burned
and buried alive
I will never
be a martyr
I will never
be a victim
I will never
be a loser
I will always
be a survivor
I will always
be a winner
I will always
be triumphant
for though I go
I will return
and though I die
I will live again
forever and forever
for I am a woman
with the eternal heart
of a woman
and since my heart
is made of love
and love is eternal
embodied in creation
leading to resurrection
though all else will burn
with the funeral pyre
in the flames of the fire
my eternal heart
will never to ashes turn
and like a phoenix I will rise again
and like a phoenix I will be reborn.