WE ARE BUT A SUM TOTAL OF OUR LOSSES—A POEM BY SAIRA SHAH HALIM

Saira Shah Halim is an educator, communications consultant, activist, and poet.

WE ARE BUT A SUM TOTAL OF OUR LOSSES

And they live in us like little monsters, trying to break free, the sum total of our losses.
No, you never really move on!
Times of gullibility, when you were duped.
The friends who let you down.
Times of incredulity, when it all melted.
Times when you crossed oceans for people who wouldn’t jump puddles for you.
The bullies you took on, in life’s naivety—it was all there when you took it all on your chin then.
The ones who left us too soon, the buds of February, it doesn’t heal; you learn to live with the idea of seeing them on the other side…
And you wear it all on your face; the rawness has a character now, more determined than before;
The monsters you dealt with then seem like a ‘cheesy story,’ thanks to years of resilience training.
You are fighting different monsters now; it’s been awhile since you discussed people; it’s not even about events and social niceties anymore;
It’s about strong stands and the whole hog, and you know that you will survive it with a little help from your friends.
And you watch everything in slow motion seated in the front seat of a grand opera; and you smile at life’s benign design.
You had rehearsed and played it all in your head, a number of times; and now you are on the stage after the umpteenth rehearsal,
No more fumbling, no awkwardness, it’s your time now to break a leg…
The ‘despondency’ monster has left, he left his friend ‘melancholia’ behind…
The emptiness monster looked weary, too; he left behind his ‘perspective’ jacket…
The camera is still rolling, and the curtain is not down yet.

Saira Shah Halim

Kolkata

India

There is a debate, currently, about what poetry is supposed to do; “emotional labor,” the term which is on everyone’s lips nowadays, threatens to become poetry itself.

“Emotional labor” began as a definition of intangible, positive, workplace behavior—largely a matter of keeping inappropriate emotions in check. Don’t call your boss, or a customer, a jerk. Be polite. It’s the traditional, patriarchal success mantra: control your emotions. Be rational. Don’t be emotional. It goes back to Socrates, the wisest of all philosophers. The more emotional, the weaker. All of us, in our hearts, know this is true. When we’re emotional, we can’t do anything. We don’t trust ourselves. Aristotle had a slightly different take than Socrates; emotions were good in art—because it helps us purge them—but emotions are still bad.

Saira Shah Halim is a successful woman who lives in India. Her poem is comforting. It does emotional labor. Her poem looks at life, and deeply at all kinds of emotional aspects of life, without complaining.

American feminists have taken the term “emotional labor” and run with it in a different direction: emotions are good, and women do all the important emotional labor, by being emotional, on account of being women. Emotions are work, and women are not appreciated for all the emotional work they do. But is the feminist position really so different? No. Emotions are a burden, finally. The feminists agree with Socrates: emotions are bad. Emotions are work. Labor.

A good balance between thinking and feeling is what we all want. Women can be rational. Men can be emotional. Gender clichés have no place in a complex, dangerous world.

We all experience the “loss” and the “monsters” in Saira Shah Halim’s poem.

Saira Shah Halim’s poem is both smart and emotional. And this is what poetry, and life, should be.

—Scarriet editors, Salem MA, USA

1 Comment

  1. noochinator said,

    April 18, 2019 at 11:57 am

    Speaking of “workplace behavior,” here’s a nice passage:

    A typical employee will arrive to the office at around 9:15 a.m. and grumble about the train being delayed or getting stuck in traffic. Then, he needs to discuss Tiger Woods’ amazing tournament win, while others join in talking about Game of Thrones. After a little gossiping, he gets coffee and breakfast and goes to the bathroom. At the crack of 10 a.m., he’ll start working. At about 11:30 a.m., he will start texting with co-workers, inquiring about where to go for lunch. I could continue, but we all know this happens. It’s easy to squander your day at work.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2019/04/16/jack-ma-is-criticized-for-endorsing-12-hour-days-six-days-a-week-but-hes-right-about-one-thing/#1b896424aeb8


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