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AUDIO: 'Rigour': A Poem Digs Beneath 'Third World' Tropes in the Media

Khairani Barokka

Khairani Barokka’s poignant poem highlights how Western reports of casualties in the developing world, even when the dead in question are children, are often recorded with indifference toward the human lives lost. Listen to Barokka read her poem “Rigour,” and follow along below.

Khairani Barokka reads “Rigour”


Khairani Barokka

This is what they will say about my daughter
And her eyes: that the way they haunt your
Memories are vestiges of trauma, of how a
Child was caught between battling tribes,
Her reddened feet, chapped and just visible
Beneath one ragged hemline, laid waste to
Near-bleeding. Girl, aged eight, page 11.

It was her birthday. She was smiling again,
Moments after the man left our village,
Having been unsure of how to reconcile the
Reach of zoom lenses with a robot cartoon
Seen that morning—both unwieldy, pointing.
Washing off the ruddy paint we’d placed
By her room. The war had never touched
Our subdistrict; all roads to it were closed by
3PM. Their jeep driver would never ring the
Bureau chief. My daughter stood by the side
Of the road, having drawn a rusty, laughing
Rooster on paper with the balls of her heels.

Khairani Barokka was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1985. She is a writer, poet, artist and disability and arts advocate. She was a Tisch Fellow at New York University, a writer-in-residence at the Emerging Writers Festival in Australia and Indonesia’s first writer-in-residence at Vermont Studio Center. She wrote, produced and performed in “Eve and Mary Are Having Coffee,” which premiered at Edinburgh Fringe 2014, and was most recently artist-in-residence at Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia. She has performed, taught or presented work in nine countries, and is published in anthologies and literary journals in print and online. She has just completed two poetry manuscripts, “Pilot Light” and “Oil and enamel on linen: poems.” Learn more about her work at

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