Friday, 27 September 2013

Human Identity, Lost in Translation

In response to this poem, someone once complained that I 'seem to be suggesting that being gay is as natural as God intended.' Well, the poem lends itself to various interpretations (as a poem should) and if that's theirs, I am delighted to have at least giving a religious bigot some food for thought.

When it comes to the various Holy Books and the attitudes they convey towards gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women, I know many people feel the same as me; much has been lost in translation or, as often as not, deliberate misinterpretation.

We all occupy a mother’s womb. I will never believe the love there is conditional to our turning out the way some parents’ preoccupation with various socio-cultural-religious conventions try to impose as. indeed, they have done very successfully since the beginning of time. Thank goodness for a natural capacity of the human heart for rebellion against such constraints; it may well have lost a good few battles and will surely lose a good few more, but is as sure to win the war for  common humanity as day follows night.  

It was once put to me by a work colleague that poetry - no more or less than other art forms - is all about self-indulgence. I beg to differ. Poetry - no more or less than other art forms - is all about finding out who we are; nor is it a definitive 'we' or first person persona for, as the metaphysical poet John Donne points out, 'No man is an island entire of itself...' (Meditation XVII)

Whatever, be in reading prose, poetry, a painting or a person, the chances are few if any will come to the same conclusion, and even greater are the chances of any one person reaching the right one; we are all made up of many parts. The arts - among which feedback regarding my own suggests poetry is often considered the poor relation - attempt to reach at least some of those parts, the sum of which makes us who we are.


When people ask where I came from;
I answer, my mother’s womb,
so why am I so haunted by a sense
of having been somewhere else,
distant, unknown, as if I’d crossed
mythical territories of time and space
just to find my way here?

When others ask if I have a ‘real’ goal
in life, I confess I’m never sure
which doors are left ajar just for me
to take a peep (our choice, enter
or not) and may let a still, small voice
out of time and space persuade me to try
the safer (better?) path

Sometimes I am even accused of sitting
on some metaphorical fence
rather than explore secret passages
of the mind, and the doors open
to tease me, dare me enter, have a go
at translating the ages-old hieroglyphics
lining Mother’s womb

Yes, I have a ‘real’ enough goal in life
if prompted by a poet’s feeling
for wrestling with the hieroglyphics
between womb and tomb,
writing up an alternative autobiography
of my life and death than trust local graffiti
on doors kicked shut

Copyright R. N. Taber 2007; 2016

[Note: This poem has been significantly revised since first appearing under the title 'Lost in Translation'in Accomplices to Illusion by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2007; rev. ed. in e-format in preparation.]

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