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Subject to Change: 'them & us' by Zahrah Sheikh

photo of zahrah sheikh
14 Dec 2018
3 min watch

The final in our Subject to Change poetry series, Young Poet Zahrah Sheikh presents her poem 'them & us'

What inspired your poem this month?

Refugee crisis. Rhetoric from the news, social media and politicians are focused on division. We can forget that these are people’s lives being played with. Action at times only takes place when something pierces the collective conscious and even then, how easy it is for the outrage to slip away. I wanted talk about how we are hurting each other and land we live on. How we keep living like the sky won’t fall no matter how much we pull it.

Who do you think writes well on the topic of change?

Imtiaz Dharker a poet, artist and documentary film-maker. She is one my heroes her writing speaks to me and has helped me through my own problems of navigating life. Reading about the change another has lived through can help with your own transitions. About two years ago I got to hear her speak at an event about poetry she said 'a poem is an act of survival' this is stuck in my head. Through living we gain and lose parts of ourselves. When I read her work I feel like poetry is rebirth of your sight, on each revival you see more.

A poem usually catches and imprints a moment of realisation or understanding, a shift in the lens.

Why do you think poetry is a good way to talk about change?

Poetry is a platform for change. A place where the reflections of humankind can run into each other. In poems there are continuous transitions from image to image, one moment the melting ice in a glass to the legs of a feather running. A poem usually catches and imprints a moment of realisation or understanding, a shift in the lens. Poetry gives you the space to see. The space for that reflection on change to be understood studied, taken apart and put together again like the gears of a watch. A poem doesn’t have to rhyme or fit into suit of a sonnet to be classed as a poem. It is a place of choice and unearthing.

How has poetry changed your life?

Poetry has changed everything. Through it I have found community, connection, a place to learn, to fail and to stand again. I’ve always been the quite one in the room, thoughts spinning, fighting and being too scared to speak. I started writing hoping for communication with others. I have found people that believe in me even when I don’t. In poetry I have found my voice, a place to speak and listen. Poems are stories, walking emotions that can flood you, angles of life lived by another. I have seen so many lives through poetry, it has transformed my understanding of what it is to be human.

them & us

why does it take a boy lying on a beach / body cold
& empty for a reaction /
them & us
a mantra woven into tongues / a banner flung in the air /
we treat our borders like knives / like Solomon dividing
the child / can I fit under your flag / is there enough
space for me and my family / stop switching off
the life support of a bridge / do not force us to run
into the water / why do we lock people
in a room on fire
& watch

tell ourselves there is nothing
that can be done

let people be painted as diseases by voices on the tv /
by voices on the tv / saying the border is just
skin trying to keep the virus out /
when all we are doing is blocking out the sound
of someone trying to live /
them & us

earth is suffocating / climate drowning / lungs
fill with plastic & smoke / we are slowly pulling
out its spine / the wounds tremble / through all
the ache & hurt / the injuries it is forgetting
how to hold us / without crushing /

we become skilled in the art of breaking
what sustains us / sky & earth / & people
in letting hate & fear think it can protect us
in letting hate & fear build /
them & us

we are all small matches running / trying to live
before the light shuts / let the walls wash over us /
let the walls learn how to be earth again /
to be the hand of a bridge

Watch more Subject to Change

Discover more performances from our Young Poets as they respond to our changing times through poetry

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