(Performance Poem) Eye of a Needle by Susan Hawthorne  

eye-of-needle-photo-1-credit-lariane-fonseca imgp0003









Mid-twentieth century

They said I shouldn’t live

You see, I’m a girl

My sister was not so lucky,

she died of preventable diarrhoea

My sisters are many

but the living not so numerous as the dead




The school said there weren’t enough desks

even for the boys

so I stayed home two more years


My mother taught me to sing with the birds




At school no one noticed us much

until the day of the long black car

They took us to a place of

white floors

white people

white ceilings

I longed for

red earth

black people

blue skies





The war comes

I escape

run the border

cross over

out of hell

into abandonment


I am nameless

My language in exile




There is no one to love




In the camp I live under plastic

between lines of trauma

the mud fills my lungs

grief corrodes my heart


One day he stalks me

hunts me like an animal

takes me in a place

where only the birds can hear me scream


Day after day the birds wait

and listen for my cries




These are days of hope and despair

I am filling my mouth with new words


like “visa”

like “protection”

like “temporary”

Words shaped to fill other mouths




We women,

our lives like vines threading

The eye of a needle takes more than a camel



Twenty-first century

There is no time for love

I learn the system

I know these walls

for I have dug in the rubble

and scaled them before




It is only then I find love

in unexpected places

She came into the centre

We were careful

It was slow but true

Daily we experiment with trust





Once long ago they said

I was a criminal

for speaking my own language

Then I was a criminal

because he raped me

They said I was a criminal

because I fled their war into exile

In most parts of the world

my love is criminal

And now  that I am learning

the methods

and medicines

of my foremothers

without a licence to practise my traditions

I am a criminal


I do not need a licence to speak

I do not need a licence to love

I do not need a licence to heal

I do not need a licence to live




I still talk to the birds

I say, one day I will join you

One day it will be your turn

to cry for me

On that day I want a sky burial


From The Butterfly Effect by Susan Hawthorne, North Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2005.

Susan Hawthorne, doing an aerials performance of the poem.

Eye of a Needle was commissioned by the 10th International Women’s Health Meeting held in New Delhi, India in September 2005. The performance is intended to highlight women’s health issues in an international context. It is deliberately broad, moving through time and across space. It is an aerials performance with poetic text. The following issues played into my development of the text and performance.

Beginning in the Mid-twentieth Century the health of girls and the way in which education is structured is the focus here. I allude to the fact that although many girls miss out on mainstream education, they do continue to be educated in the ways of their mothers and grandmothers. This can have very positive outcomes in terms of understanding cultural traditions. But many girls are “taken away” whether it is the Stolen Generation in Australia or whether it is for trafficking into prostitution or domestic work in countries around the world (including in Australia).

The 1970s saw many wars of independence — and just as now — the effect on women has often been catastrophic. Escape from war torn regions can mean isolation, fragility, and a great sense of loss. In such situations how do women survive in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language?

Refugees and camps have been a feature of the lives of women throughout the twentieth century, and even when women manage to escape there remain perils in the places that should be safe. Women are abused and violated because they need food, medicines, firewood and shelter for their children. Who is listening to the cries of these women?

Detention camps, names like “the illegals” have become almost ordinary in the currency of the media. What could governments possibly mean by “temporary protection visa”? Whose protection are they seeking? Under such circumstances women achieve the impossible daily.

The system is a giant wall with the bodies of many women at its base. Few manage to scale such bureaucracies. When they do it is an extraordinary feat. And so is love, whoever is the beloved. Many women find love, trust and friendship with other women. Some are lesbians.

Mass criminalisation is occurring around the world. Among them are women whose traditional health practices threaten the newly won patents of the multinational pharmaceutical industry. I am calling for resistance to the criminalisation of women healers. This has happened before in Europe and the USA. Let’s not see another “witchcraze”.

I call for dignity for all women: for sisters and aunts, mothers and lovers, friends and daughters.

Meet Mago Contributor Susan Hawthorne.