Ten Thousand Steps Against the Tyrant by Indran Amirthanayagam

Source: GBF
Paperback, 90 pgs.
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Ten Thousand Steps Against the Tyrant by Indran Amirthanayagam opens with the “Migrant Song,” part plea, part love song to those who have fled homes to make new ones. “We write/poems for our tribes, making one tribe of/every beating heart sending blood through/the veins of one earth.” (pg. 3) This poem sets the tone for the collection. While many of these poems tackle tough issues of racism, institutional racism, a presidential election that threw a country into crisis, and so much more, Amirthanayagam bears witness to it all, but unlike the journalist observing, he’s participating in change. He’s calling voters in conservative locations, speaking to them one-on-one, writing letters, trying to express a different view but always with an open hand and heart.

One of the most beautiful lines in this collection comes in “Soul Rising”: (pg. 25)

I miss you something fierce;
I have to tell my bones to
stop shaking, to calm
down, that there is something
called work, poetry, cleaning
the room, getting food
together, attending to mother,
reading fine print in polling,
picking up the phone, cold-
calling a Texan in the name of
participatory democracy, the
nation's and the earth's soul...

In this poem, about a third of the way through, it is clear that democracy matters and it should matter to all of us. We should be taking the time to speak to one another — face-to-face, phone-to-phone, video-to-video — anything to keep the democratic dialogue going. Like I said, more than poems of witness. These are poems of action.

From "Artist's Role" (pg. 47)

...Can we continue
to make light and gladden hearts while the virus kills
and one gang leader tries to steal the democracy, unmasked?

Despite the darkness we face in America — the something “too rotten in the fridge” and the “blackening hole” and the “spilling of blood” — Amirthanayagam is still hopeful. There is light in the ship that carries democracy in the hold and the crossing of John Lewis bridge, and the dermatologist who is able to freeze the blackening hole and removing it before cancer takes over. “Writing a poem is/the easiest option, the only one I can/imagine and control. Although war is/everywhere, and it is time to raise/our hands and say no, not past this line.//” (“Not Beyond This Line, pg. 58)

It may take 10,000 steps, but freedom and peace are worth every stone stuck in your shoe, every bead of sweat that falls, and every emotional emptying it takes. Ten Thousand Steps Against the Tyrant by Indran Amirthanayagam explores the freedom of an open heart that allows us to “embrace the darkness and accept each other’s/absolute freedom to fly to the other end of the earth.” (“The Candle (Migratory Bird), pg. 87)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Indran Amirthanayagam writes in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole. He has published over twenty books of poetry, including Blue Window (translated by Jennifer Rathbun), The Migrant States, Coconuts on Mars, The Elephants of Reckoning (winner 1994 Paterson Poetry Prize), Uncivil War, and The Splintered Face: Tsunami Poems. In music, he recorded Rankont Dout. He edits the Beltway Poetry Quarterly (www.beltwaypoetry.com); curates www.ablucionistas.com; writes https://indranamirthanayagam.blogspot.com; co-directs Poets & Writers Studio International; writes a weekly poem for Haiti en Marche and El Acento; and hosts The Poetry Channel (https://youtube.com/user/indranam). He has received fellowships from the Foundation for the Contemporary Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, The US/Mexico Fund for Culture, and the Macdowell Colony. He is a 2021 Emergent Seed grant winner. Forthcoming new books include Powèt nan po la (Poet of the Port) and Isleño.