I cannot be a poet

This poem mostly wrote itself while, after reading a Facebook post, I thought about the (perceived) rights of poets to speak about issues.

I cannot be a poet

No, I cannot be a poet.
From the endless fount of issues
that may plague the skin of my brothers,
I can’t write a poem about any one of them.
My pen, my fingers, my mind yield nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I can write.
It’s just that I’m not qualified to write about these issues.
Says who?
So say the poetry clergymen.

I have never been raped,
so I can’t write a rape poem.
Never been depressed to contemplate suicide
so I can’t talk about how hopelessly dark a mind can get.
‘Hell, what does he know of depression,’
I hear the critics say as they hammer the gavel
and shuffle uneasily on their selfmade pedestals.

Being male rules me out from talking about female infanticide or sexism,
being straight rules me out from talking for the LGBT community.
Maybe being human rules me out from taking up animal rights.
But hey, I love dogs,
so I and all you animal activists have to be reborn as a dog, a talking one,
so we can talk about our animal troubles.
Experienced firsthand.
I don’t believe in rebirth, but for the sake of my right to talk for animals, I’ll assume this might work out.

Somehow somewhere,
the arts came up with these rules.
Maybe it was a place where the cult met,
where everyone wore the same dark robes,
and entry was only by invitation.
The cult decided
I could write only about issues I have faced firsthand.
Who made this cult? I don’t know.
I see their rules being waved around like axioms though,
like unbending rays of light,
like the only valid letters in the alphabet.

What made my voice wrong and theirs right?
What made their voice a part of the melody,
and mine a jarring note?

Yes, I cannot be a poet.
You may think I’ve given up too easily, but no.
I asked the art custodians if empathy would do when I didn’t experience their plight firsthand.
‘No no,’ they said,
’empathy can only get you halfway.
If you haven’t faced it, you can’t write about it. Even what you write will be wrong.’

What about actors then, I asked.
What about our movies, our literature, our music?
Do our novelists, our filmmakers have to grind under the yoke of oppression
before they write the first chapter,
before they script the first scene?

And the judges said,
‘They are the maestros, the veterans, so they can bypass this rule.
But if you, my young artist,
if you’re creating a work of art,
we, doubling as your peers and your judges,
we won’t let you get off that easy.
Stick by the rules.’

So dear custodians,
If I have to abide by your rules,
I’d rather not be a poet.
I’d rather not chisel my voice
to speak on your podium.
No I cannot be a poet.
I cannot be your poet,
not the poet you want me to be.

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