Based on H. C. Andersen’s 'Thumbelina'
Grant me a little child
I can hide
When the mullahs come home to pray,
When planes are birds of prey.
Smaller than my thumb
I can put in my pocket and run.
The Story of Another Mother
Based on Andersen’s 'The Story of a Mother'
To hear your shot child gasp for breath,
Her cradle rocked by old man Death;
To wake into a world of roadblocks
Where time has nothing to do with clocks;
To go out into snow or sun
To watch them crouch and shoot and run;
To see Death enter through the door;
To know Death and then to know more;
To fear that all this is the sum
Of God and of Freedom.
The Soldier Home from Iraq
Based on Andersen’s 'The Tinder Box'
What could I do being what I was:
Saviour of old women, their killer too.
On my chest there sat a big dog;
Trained to get answers, move it, jump jump jump,
I picked up my M16A2 and shot her.
There she lay. There they lay.
Back home I was rich like anyone else,
Princesses clutched my dog hairs
In fantasy, in ecstasy.
Later we slept.
I had my will
The shades of a prison-house closed upon me
And I remembered I had forgotten
It eludes me still.
Was it a candle, a wick, a tinderbox?
Something to do with light surely.
Something that would have set me free.
Based on Andersen’s 'The Nightingale'
It does not sound like glass bells.
It sounds like guns.
What art has gone into the manufacture
Of this mighty machine!
If it had feathers, it would also fly.
If it had a tongue, it could also tell.
But it sings the same song over and over again:
Won’t we ever get tired of listening to it?
Tabish Khair is a well-known poet and novelist from Bihar who lives and works in Denmark. All poems previously published in Man of Glass, HarperCollins 2010. These poems are part of ICF's unfolding Citizens against War series of literature and art, initiated in the spirit of listening: to our poets, artists, fellow citizens, against war and warmongering.