Ballpoint Pens (for Rizana Nafeek)

If I were to visit you right now, I’d
hand you a pen and tell you to write. Do they have
pens in Heaven? Even a lousy little ballpoint
to welcome a poet like me when she dies
would be more than enough. I would
give you my pen and ask you to tell me
everything that is buried inside your head.

You, however, might need an army of little ballpoints.
But that would not even be enough.
Not even 100 laptops. Not even 1000 iPads.
Not even 50 server farms worth of data would be enough.
Nothing is enough for you, and it shouldn’t be. Not enough
to contain the teak trees, the mangrove trees,
the elephants, the leopards, and the peacocks. Not enough
to hold a pre-tsunami coastline where coruscating diamonds
are tossed up by the hands of an unspoiled ocean
to meet the sun and glitter against their blue palms. Not enough
to contain that ancient village you came from,
or your mother, or your father,
or the dream that sent you away from there
with a fake passport and little suitcases.

I would ask you to describe the exact shade
of that ocean’s turquoise: does it become
bluer and clearer now? And do the green leaves
of teak transmute into broad teardrop hands
to catch every ray of sunlight poured down from
above the clouds? Does their emerald sing
in cube and facet edges – and what are their songs?
Puja chants? A verse of M.I.A overheard from an iPod?
The heavy beats and square tumbi notes of bhangra?
The mridangam, flute, and tambura counterbalancing each other
while the staccato morphemes of the poet call
anklet footfalls and kuchipudi swan arms into action?
Do those peacocks now wear lapis lazuli on their backs
and jade in their tails? And does the sand
beneath your soles yield more to your heels and
suck your toes in more now than it did before?

I would not ask the obvious questions.
No one goes to Heaven to remember
false accusations, inept interpreters,
and stark prison cells where no one speaks your tongue
and words are exacted from you by knuckles and feet
and proclaimed as your truth. I would rather
ask you about the first boy that remains
soft and candy-colored in your memory – does he
now take on the glow of an impish teenaged Krishna
with ebony curls tumbling past his smooth neck
and round cheeks to land on shoulders offered as a gift
to the noonday sun? Or, I would rather read your own poetry
in which you describe your mother’s curries or
the perfumed soul of rice spilling into every room
of your house. Yes, I would rather hear about your home,
reinterpreted through your mind’s lenses
now twenty-four years old and newly angelic.

How do I end this epistle? I can’t.
Any final stanza I offer will never be enough
to hold you in its arms – and I suppose
that this is the job of the Great Creator of Being
now. The best ending I can offer is to
tilt my head sideways, raise one ear to the clouds,
and try to listen for your fevered scribbling
or the rustle of wings as you cross the sky.

Written 1/11/13
© 2013 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.

This poem was written for We Write Poems Prompt #138: The memoir project. It does not follow the prompt strictly, as this is not a poem about my own memories revisited. Instead, I chose Rizana Nafeek as my subject.

Rizana Nafeek (February 4, 1988 – January 9, 2013)

Nafeek was a 24 year-old woman from Muttur, a town in the Trincomalee District on the Eastern coast of Sri Lanka. The name of the town she came from, Muttur, means “ancient village” in the Tamil language.

She  emigrated to Saudi Arabia to find work in 2005 when she was only 17 years old. Sri Lanka had been affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Nafeek sought an opportunity to earn money to help her displaced relatives. The employment agency with which she was registered falsified her passport to claim that she was 23 years old at the time she came to Saudi Arabia. She found work at the home of a Saudi family as a housemaid, and after that is when her troubles began.

An infant in Nafeek’s care died and she found herself being charged with murder. She was assaulted and forced to sign a confession under duress — a confession she later recanted, saying that the baby choked on the milk she had been feeding it. During this whole ordeal, she had no interpreter, no legal counsel, and was believed to not fully understand the legal proceedings against her. Since she was under 18 at the time she was charged with the crime, international law would have forbidden the death penalty for her. Additionally, her own government made several attempts to appeal to the Saudi government for clemency.

But in the end, none of this mattered — and the Saudi legal machine marched onward, trampling Nafeek underneath its wheels. She was murdered by beheading in a state execution by the Saudi government on January 9, 2013.

Nafeek is one of many individuals who are victims of this kind of injustice. According to Amnesty International, “many of the people executed in Saudi Arabia in recent years have been foreign citizens… most of them ‘migrant workers from poor and developing countries.'”

I feel that anything I could say for or about Nafeek would be woefully inadequate and would certainly not do her, her family, or her plight justice. I just hope that she is never forgotten and that somehow, this kind of injustice ends so that no more people suffer the same fate. I don’t know what else to do right now except feel stunned, sorrowful, and angry at what as happened.

For more information about Nafeek’s case, see this CNN article and this article by the Vatican Insider.



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About ravenswingpoetry

I am a 38 year old writer from Columbus, OH and the creator of Raven's Wing Poetry. I am a poet, seeker, fellow traveler, and autistic.
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3 Responses to Ballpoint Pens (for Rizana Nafeek)

  1. 1sojournal says:

    No, this isn’t strictly to prompt. However, in your ‘retelling’ of Nafeek’s story, you also reveal a lot about yourself, your caring and concern for your own world and what is happening in it.

    PS. I intend to take my pens with me when I pass.

  2. Wayne says:

    another good poem….thanks for sharing all your words

  3. Irene says:

    This is a fantastic re-imagination of her story, Nicole. Such rich lyrical details such as this one:

    I would rather read your own poetry
    in which you describe your mother’s curries or
    the perfumed soul of rice spilling into every room
    of your house.

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