I work with film, and I know that I can take one image and edit it ten different ways, write ten different sets of words, and make it into ten different stories. That's one of the things that I'm trying to do in the poem 'The right word'. There is just one image, but it's an image that is interpreted in different ways depending on the preconceptions that fit into each verse.

The right word


Outside the door,
lurking in the shadows,
is a terrorist.

Is that the wrong description?
Outside that door,
taking shelter in the shadows,
is a freedom fighter.

I haven’t got this right.
Outside, waiting in the shadows,
is a hostile militant.

Are words no more
than waving, wavering flags?
Outside your door,
watchful in the shadows,
is a guerrilla warrior.

God help me.
Outside, defying every shadow,
stands a martyr.
I saw his face.

No words can help me now.
Just outside the door,
lost in shadows,
is a child who looks like mine.

One word for you.
Outside my door,
his hand too steady,
his eyes too hard
is a boy who looks like your son, too.

I open the door.
Come in, I say.
Come in and eat with us.

The child steps in
and carefully, at my door,
takes off his shoes.

from The Terrorist at My Table (Bloodaxe, 2006), © Imtiaz Dharker 2006, used by permission of the author and the publisher

Imtiaz Dharker in the Poetry Store

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