A sense of belonging is a fundamental human need. But what is it like to never feel that you truly belong, to feel like nothing more than a stranger, outcast or even an alien? These words are used in this poem by Imtiaz Dharker to portray someone who feels like “a foreigner everywhere”.
I was born a foreigner.
I carried on from there
to become a foreigner everywhere
I went, even in the place
planted with my relatives,
six-foot tubers sprouting roots,
their fingers and faces pushing up
new shoots of maize and sugar cane.
All kinds of places and groups
of people who have an admirable
history would, almost certainly,
distance themselves from me.
I don’t fit,
like a clumsily-translated poem;
like food cooked in milk of coconut
where you expected ghee or cream,
the unexpected aftertaste
of cardamom or neem.
There’s always that point where
the language flips
into an unfamiliar taste;
where words tumble over
a cunning tripwire on the tongue;
where the frame slips,
the reception of an image
not quite tuned, ghost-outlined,
that signals, in their midst,
And so I scratch, scratch
through the night, at this
growing scab of black on white.
Everyone has the right
to infiltrate a piece of paper.
A page doesn’t fight back.
And, who knows, these lines
may scratch their way
into your head —
through all the chatter of community,
family, clattering spoons,
children being fed —
immigrate into your bed,
squat in your home,
and in a corner, eat your bread,
until, one day, you meet
the stranger sliding down your street,
realise you know the face
simplified to bone,
look into its outcast eyes
and recognise it as your own.
Copyright © Imtiaz Dharker Postcards from god
Published by Bloodaxe Books, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1997.