Malala, poems by Lyn Lifshin

published by Poetic Matrix Press, 2014, 127 pages, $17

reviewed by Christina Zawadiwsky

A small bird rising in the air and spreading its wings is seen next to every page number in Lyn Lifshin's book of poems Malala, thus visually emphasizing the spirit of hope and freedom within a young girl "wild for education as Malala was" since "nothing could stop her passion for this freedom to continue." Malala Yousafzai lived daily under Taliban rule in Pakistan and blogged about her life as a 7th grader. She received several international peace prizes and met with Queen Elizabeth and President Obama, but she was shot by a Taliban gunman on October 9, 2012, while returning home from school on a bus with friends. The Taliban's stance was a righteous one, believing that Malala was "propagating against Islam."

As a poet, Lyn Lifshin enters into Malala's spirit and relives the ironic poetry of her life, which was certainly marked by destiny.  Lifshin tells us that Malala's name means "grief stricken" and notes that Malala may have been "watching leaves drift from the bus/and giggling with girlfriends" right before the shooting occurred on the day that she'd decided to wear "my favorite pink dress." The book divides into chapters that, among others, poetically describe warnings and unease, growing terror, the shooting itself, months in the hospital healing, and Malala finally blooming again. With the special fervor of the young,

Malala believed she could change
the world, cure cancer, live on the
moon, make a difference in
the world.

(from Like Children Trailing Glory)

But this is during a time when "You could see darkness growing as the/leaves were changing, how they left/scorched bark, blood spattered on cedar./They threw acid on the/faces of other/girls seeking to learn./Even the trees would/have run" (from The Taliban Tried To Kill Her). Who would not fear hearing a man cry "I will kill you," much less a child? Malala wants to read, to sing, to learn,

She wants the school
quiet calmness the
way the lake
opens to receive
a flock of swans.

(from She Said She Couldn't See To Walk Easily)

Not only does Lyn Lifshin's book Malala bring us a feast of poetry, it portrays a crucial time in history by envisioning the life of a young girl fighting for her inherent right to be educated and to educate herself by reading. Because of this goal Malala ended up "bleeding/and bleeding, unconscious/in her friend's lap" (from On That Day) and was characterized as "an/American spy who/idolized the "black/devil Obama" (from For Months A Team Of Taliban Sharpshooters).  The bullet was removed, but she remained on a ventilator with a 70% chance of recovery.

During her recovery

Malala wonders
about this man.
If he had a daughter
could he shoot
her in the neck
and head? Throw
acid in her face
and eyes.

(from Weeks Lying In The Hospital Cove)

 Malala "wanted to/be a doctor/but he convinced/her politics mattered more" (from I Think Of Her Father), and so Malala blogged as Gul Makai (which means cornflower in Pashto). Because she inspired others she received many cards and letters of support as she recuperated safely in England. Malala worried that she would never be able to return to Pakistan, even though compulsory education for both boys and girls had finally been made into law, because Malala's attacker was not arrested. Precisely and meticulously documented, Lyn Lifshin brings Malala's story to life in a way that attracts even non-readers of poetry with its drama and empathy. For all of us who dream of peace and will never stop being shocked by the horror of political injury and the death of the innocent, Malala shines as a beacon of hope, a survival story of one who cries out "I have no fear." Lyn Lifshin's poetic voice is elevated by depth, vivacity and understanding as she follows Malala out of a country where 62% of its young girls had never seen the inside of a school into the light of the civilized world that certainly embraces the female gender as its own (on a par with men).  In Malala's words, "it's courage that counts," and, in the words of Lyn Lifshin (from As If The Days Healing), "education is a basic right,/unstoppable as new/flowers."

 Christina Zawadiwsky is Ukrainian-American, born in New York City, has a degree in Fine Arts, and is a poet, artist, journalist, critic and TV producer who has received many local and national awards for her work.