december 16, 2014
Before attacking schools in Pakistan, the Taliban sends kafan, a white cloth that marks Muslim burials, as a form of psychological terror.
From the moment our babies are born
are we meant to lower them into the ground?
To dress them in white? They send flowers
before guns, thorns plucked from stem.
Every year I manage to live on this earth
I collect more questions than answers.
In my dreams, the children are still alive
at school. In my dreams they still play.
I wish them a mundane life.
Arguments with parents. Groundings.
Chasing a budding love around the playground.
Iced mango slices in the hot summer.
Lassi dripping from lips.
Fear of being unmarried. Hatred of the family
next door. Kheer at graduation. Fingers licked
with mehndi. Blisters on the back of a heel.
Loneliness in a bookstore. Gold chapals.
Red kurtas. Walking home, sun
at their backs. Searching the street
for a missing glove. Nothing glorious.
A life. Alive. I promise.
I didn’t know I needed to worry
until they were gone.
My uncle gifts me his earliest memory:
a parking lot full of corpses.
No kafan to hide their eyes
no white to return them to the ground.
In all our family histories, one wrong
turn & then, death. Violence
not an over there but a memory lurking
in our blood, waiting to rise.
We know this from our nests—
the bad men wanting to end us. Every year
we call them something new:
British. Sikhs. Hindus. Indians. Americans. Terrorists.
The dirge, our hearts, pounds vicious, as we prepare
the white linen, ready to wrap our bodies.
you’re kashmiri until they burn your home. take your orchards. stake a different flag. until no one remembers the road that brings you back. you’re indian until they draw a border through punjab. until the british captains spit paki as they sip your chai, add so much foam you can’t taste home. you’re seraiki until your mouth fills with english. you’re pakistani until your classmates ask what that is. then you’re indian again. or some kind of spanish. you speak a language until you don’t. until you only recognize it between your auntie’s lips. your father was fluent in four languages. you’re illiterate in the tongues of your father. your grandfather wrote persian poetry on glasses. maybe. you can’t remember. you made it up. someone lied. you’re a daughter until they bury your mother. until you’re not invited to your father’s funeral. you’re a virgin until you get too drunk. you’re muslim until you’re not a virgin. you’re pakistani until they start throwing acid. you’re muslim until it’s too dangerous. you’re safe until you’re alone. you’re american until the towers fall. until there’s a border on your back.
Allah, you gave us a language
where yesterday & tomorrow
are the same word. Kal.
A spell cast with the entire
mouth. Back of the throat
to teeth. Tomorrow means I might
have her forever. Yesterday means
I say goodbye, again.
Kal means they are the same.
I know you can bend time.
I am merely asking for what
is mine. Give me my mother for no
other reason than I deserve her.
If yesterday & tomorrow are the same
pluck the flower of my mother’s body
from the soil. Kal means I’m in the crib,
eyelashes wet as she looks over me.
Kal means I’m on the bed,
crawling away from her, my father
back from work. Kal means she’s
dancing at my wedding not-yet come.
Kal means she’s oiling my hair
before the first day of school. Kal
means I wake to her strange voice
in the kitchen. Kal means
she’s holding my unborn baby
in her arms, helping me pick a name.
Copyright © 2018 by Fatimah Asghar. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.