Words and their connotations can alter the perception of a person or a group. This is the situation in the poem "The right word" by Imtiaz Dharker. Written in 2006, the focus of the poem begins with these frightening words:
Outside the door,
lurking in the shadows
is a terrorist.
There is an elusive figure outside the house in the darkness. The poet purposefully repeats the words "outside" and shadow(s) in the first six stanzas. The narrator is unable to determine who or what "he" is; therefore, the speaker searches for the appropriate word for this being.
Initially, the figure is lurking which implies a threatening posture. However, in the second stanza, the figure has changed to seeking shelter...which ascribes the problem to the shadowy fiigure rather than the narrator. Now she sees him as a possible person who is fighting for freedom
In the third stanza, again the person becomes menacing. He is waiting because he is now an revolutionary aggressor [hostile militant], possibly an enemy.
Using alliteration, the poet chooses to question the meaning of words:
Are words no more
than waving, wavering flags?
To waver is to be unsure, change opinions, and wavering creates an image of fluctuation and movement of ideas.
The man now is watching and alert. This time he is identified as an insurgent soldier [guerilla warrior].
The narrator begins the next verse by asking "God for help." This also speaks to the shock of having someone outside the door who brings with him imagined terror.
The man has moved outside the shadows and stands defiant. He is willing to give his life for his cause: a martyr. In a shocking seemingly unemotional statement, the narrator says that he has seen his face.
Surprisingly, the narrator opens the door, possibly from recognition of the person. The next words are frightening: "No words can help me now." Her meaning seems to refer to the martyr label which implies that as a martyr he intends to take others with him.
Her tone begins to mellow as she now calls the figure a child who looks like her child. Even if this man is a terrorist, a martyr, a guerrilla fighter, he apparently is part of the family.
Then the narrator addresses the reader. Outside of my door, this could be your son instead of mine--his hand ready to kill without emotion and his heart hardened...this boy may be your son.
As the narrator opens the door, he asks the person to come in and eat with them. The child or boy steps in with particular care and takes off his shoes in a show of respect for the family.
The poem looks at the reactions of people to words and labels. Further it asks the question, "if this were your son, how would you feel and how would you treat him?" If he makes the choice to become a terrorist or freedom fighter, will his parents love him any less? He still belongs to the family and there are people who do love him.
Addressing the ideological differences in how people perceive others and the emotions that come with the labels that we use, she cautions people to be wary of these fearful connotations. In the beginning of the poem, there is a terrorist lurking in the shadows; and at the end of the poem, that same person is now a child, welcomed in to share a meal with the family.