Poetry Friday: Courage

Poetry Friday is hosted by Betsy at Teaching Young Writers
I’ve been following the BBC blog kept by Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who is a fiece advocate for girls’ education – not an easy cause in her country.  She had been warned by the Taliban to cease and desist…or else, but she persevered. On Monday, a Taliban gunman walked up to her school bus, asked for her by name, and then shot her in the neck and head. She is in critical condition, and it is not known yet whether she will survive.  Nicholas Kristof wrote a moving editorial about her courage in the New York Times on Wednesday , and (particularly as the mother of two girls and the teacher of so many girls) I have been thinking about Malala and her courage a lot.  Even though we as a nation seem to be  moving backwards in terms of women’s rights in this particular election cycle (are we really debating the right of women to be in charge of their own health care choices and contraception?? unbelievable!), we celebrate our girls and their pursuit of education. What must it be like to have to fight daily, and against such dangerous odds, for that right?  So, in honor of Malala, this Poetry Friday poem has to do with courage…specifically, a woman’s courage:
Courage by Anne Sexton
It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
comver your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.
Here is a documentary the New York Times created about Malala’s  life and work :

7 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Courage

  1. Such a heartbreaking post, Tara. I have heard of this through a few of my Facebook friends, but I haven't really followed it as closely as you had. The video clip is powerful, as well as the Anne Sexton poem you chose to share. I have a dearly-beloved friend who is now in the desert – very close to where Malala lives – a soldier, whom I think would love this poem about Courage too. I will share it with him. 🙂 Thank you for opening our eyes to these things, dear Tara.

  2. Beautifully presented, Tara. It is unfathomable to me that we are still fighting, and those who have that courage show such integrity to me. Thank you for sharing what you know, including that poignant video and poem. I love these lines: "Your courage was a small coal/that you kept swallowing."

  3. Hi, Tara. I have been watching "Half the Sky" on PBS with my twelve-year-old. It's a powerful reminder of how far we have to go in securing rights for girls and women. This is a brave girl. I hope she recovers and goes on to do more of this important work.

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