Category: adulthood

Ode to writing

I wrote a thousand different poems.

Each one, pressed like flowers and leaves

in dictionaries, my parents told me to read.

Some days, I think there aren’t enough words

in me. I used to chew on the margins of my

grade school notebooks, so when I talked- a sound

came out in the classroom. I wrote a song for a

girl whose hands are as warm as the steam

against my face, when I’ve opened the pot’s lid.

For this sensation, I remember the places and

people who’ve made me feel warm. My hands

are cold, with my self-deprivation forming

rings around my fingers. I wrote a letter to

people I’ve never met because I would have

liked to know them. Their words seep into the

graveyard’s grass, and shower a mist in a

mausoleum of urns. Somewhere, I learned

that if I think my words are important, I can

never say them directly face to face. I wrote

a paragraph or two for my parents on how

my childhood left me with an unrealistic

perspective that my younger self was the

only self I could be proud of. I wrote a

lullaby for my aches and groans, when I

held my arms tightly across my chest in the

night. Silent decays of belief and hope are

mine to keep. I wrote a song for a man I

knew who would never love me, and now

I think of how I don’t want him to. I wrote a

song for sex, afraid that when it happens, I

won’t like it at all. I wrote a song for rain, add-

ing an extra refrain for the days it never stops.

I wrote a limerick for myself, because the day

laughing gives way to sickness of a tearful mind –

I’ll read it again.


Birthing fragile flowers

My unborn children are wilted flowers.

I fear their feet will touch the frigid floors,

where I trail my sadness behind me.

My unborn children are potted plants,

because I am afraid I will fail them –

if I let them see the world –

where I have become a failure.

Incarnate god,

God, whose face rests like a lotus,

brow  not furrowed by calamity,

I weep for them.

My children, whose ribs ache of hearty tears,

I promise I have thought of you-

since I knew I had twigs in my uterus

capable of building nests.

My children, whose chromosomes are half,

my love is afraid to make you a whole being,

so I shall wait.

My children,

I was born in the flower bed,

where my parents used spoons

instead of a small spade to till soil.

My unborn children,

I hold my hand against my cheek,

and think how my love breathes only a few feet in front of me,

as a frost cloud when my lips are parted in winter.

Inherited sorrow

Grandmother died,

With her daughter

Tucked into the folds of her skin

Creating pouches of fat by her middle.

Head, propped up by a pillow,

Her jaws relaxed and slacked down. 

I imagine her dark brown eyes,

Searching my mother’s face

In a sea of stories

Still hanging in the air. 

Laid, a blanket hugging her frame,

She was the size of thumbelina.

Two thin braided plaits,

Laced with silver tinsel- gleaning.

I imagine her soul,

Roaming the forest of Mississippi,

Visiting the trees 

Outside the plantation. 

She’ll trace her hands on

The old mobile home of my mother’s house.

Windows with splintered paint,

My grandmother crawls in their sealant.

She died,

And came into my mother’s home

Still illuminating in her

Like the safety light on top of the stove.

She died,

And came in between my mother’s teeth

When the years had worn her season to season. 

A fully-clothed woman asks a question

“My body does not cause a man to sin.”

Scrolling through various photo sets, each a reference to a film or the interview of an average woman, I read this. I thought of why I angled my feminism around fully-clothed women. This didn’t mean that I didn’t admire the other women. My friends: miniskirt lovers, closeted nudists, and whatever-I-feel-like hippies. No, I wanted to know why I carefully covered my legs, my arms, (and most of the time my neck, and hair.

I interrogate myself for a few days, a few months, and the span of a whole year. Why do you do this? I recognize the power of a head wrap, an ankle length dress (skirt), a knee length dress (skirt), a hijab, an abaya, and other options. I see women tearing down walls of oppression with their own hands, but all the while I hang on my own power. I have some, right?

Surely, I am my own. I dabbled in whether I was born with sin in my cradle, or I was suspectible in befriending its likeness. I took the garden of Eden, and planted a wonderful lush green place with a giant sized tree in the middle. I saw the paintings done by famous artists of a pale-skinned Eve looking away from the snake. There she was nude. Either leaves or the coils from the snake’s body covered her genitalia. 

Every time, I thought back to myself in space. I saw the following: I had once worn short dresses and skirts. I had laughed, loved, and experienced. I wore ‘modest-styled’ clothing often. I had laughed, loved, and experienced. Had my body betrayed me? I had worn either of these looks, and felt a tinge that I was impressing someone. I took each of these moments, and added details of my own personal flare. Yet, I had eaten words of criticism and doubt. I had silenced myself admidst the fear of not doing what I ought to. I had heard the words of women tell their stories, and each time I measured whether or not these were their words.

“A woman should do…” 

a couple of things where God can protect her. I remember certain times I had called out, cried to, and silently prayed to a God I swore was genderless (still do). When I was a girl, we God, he. He was a father, and we were his children. When I was a teenager, we called him respectfully by chosen names. When I was an adult, we called God by name and at times each translation I read said ‘he’. I started to revel in fears that I had placed men so high into the sky, I would forget the women of such times before. Am I from the side of man, being birthed from the rib? Am I not from my mother’s womb, which my father’s sperm had to work to enter?

I laid on my back, and weighed words. I laid on my back and placed the messages from two holy books across my breasts. My heart has decided to isolate itself, and my brain knocks repeatedly on the door of how I must choose. I have to choose. I know there are things that I know. But there are things I cannot unread from both holy books. 

When I was born, I came into the world naked. As children, we were cradled into the hands of our doctors, our parents, our midwives, our surrogates, our guardians, our nurses, and their friends. When I was a girl, I kicked my uncovered legs back and forth. I watched them burn, when I swung on the swing set under the beaming sun. When I was a teenager, I dressed for myself but then quickly for the expectations of others. I liked my hair until I hated it. When I was an adult, I freed myself for awhile from a certain criticism. I let no one see my arms, legs, and hair. When I was an adult, I longed to remove my layers and face myself again. I took my fears from each moment of my life, and dressed myself with them daily. As if under a heavy coat, my shoulders started to ache.

My body tells men the things that they are conditioned to see and say. My body tells men their judgments of me, whether I am easy or accustomed to modesty. My body tells men that my choices are set in stone, even when I believe that I am a fluid stylist. My body tells men that if it is sin I am hiding, then I am merely a thousand different women. 

A letter with no return address

It’s the things that I remember at midnight that will kill me.

I hope I forget the curve of your under eye,

When you’ve barely slept.

I hope I don’t turn over in the night;

Dreaming, how I heard your voice

Pulling wire between my ears,

Tuning over and over.

I hope I crawl inside that cardboard box

At the back of your mind so well,

And collect the lacework of spiders,

Mixed in with the dust.

I hope I carry my heart to the grave,

And never try letting her attach herself to people like stickers which peel off-

Eventually, turning into faded stamps

Which never grace letters.

I hope I remember not to pack a part of me

In your suitcase,

Pushed under the bed,

With shiny new locks.

I hope I pick myself up like a wooden doll,

Arms held up by string,

Succumbing to God’s puppetry,

How I step step step across the floor,

With nothing but a wandering eye,

Which falls on the grass,

Where the shade never casts the silhouette of a dandelion.

I hope you forget me.



December difference

Silver tinsel dangled off the railings leading to most of the shops. With the colorful lights lacing around trees, I saw the fade of my past Decembers. These symbols stood upright in the middle of the mall, in the corner of the post office, and in the windows of my neighbors. Sometime – maybe two years ago the carols and the frosty night air had meant something different. I had nestled myself in between the bustling shoppers looking for the perfect gift, and found myself entranced with the holiday spirit once.

As years went, I faded into the background quietly observing the excitement of peers. Wrapping paper, spools of tape, and recipient labels could not contain the temporary sadness fizzling in and out of me. I remember when I raced down the stairs to my parents, not because we had placed presents under our tree. Christmas trees meant more to when I was nine, because aunts, uncles, and cousins filled our house. Voices overlapped one another, as the smells of my mother’s cooking floated throughout the living room and down into the hall.

When I grew older, my mother, father and I barely decorated. We sat downstairs together for most of the day, and retold old things we had said before. We found a movie or a TV series we all enjoyed and enacted our small celebration. The meals became smaller, and one year we preheated the oven and ate a pizza. Three years ago we had decorated to say that at least we had. The warm glow of the kitchen stove light shone across the counter, as I flipped through the ads of various sales. All December, our mailbox would overflow with large snowflake designed pamphlets how if we weren’t struggling, we might as well show it.

It’s different now. My holidays are mainly in the middle of the summer, or right at the beginning of the next fall semester. For my first Ramadan, I was glad that I wasn’t alone far as observing fasting, and meals. Though, Eid Al-Fitr was surrounded mainly by women who all spoke Arabic, I was grateful that I could look across a leasing office living room and see three or four classmates from school. Throughout the duration of the get together, I kept a plate of food in my lap and silently wished I understood the languages of the people around me. Women  who entered with black abayas, soon transformed into elaborate party dresses. When I arrived, I felt that perhaps I had dressed too prude since it was only a party of just women. I sat there with my eyes glued to the decorations around the room.The couches were pushed to one side of the room so the children had more room to run around. Soon, the children would run in and out of that suite room, while young and middle aged women danced traditionally in the middle of the floor. Every now and then, one of my classmates would engage me in conversation translating what I and another woman said to one another. That evening I fumbled with the sleeve of my long dress, and silently chewed away the feeling of how alone I felt.

I remember how in December when the remixed carols came on in the radio, I silently felt a little at ease. It was the safety net of the people around me.Everywhere you turned you saw the joyfulness of the people around you fixing wreaths on their front doors, and nodding at you as you walked past.

Sometimes, when I say Salaam Alaykum to my fellow brothers and sisters out in public, I feel connected again. Other times I walk away with my burning ember light only to be put again, once I am alone. It’s not easy to explain how American holidays are different to me now. The air isn’t the same. Frosty air as soon as I leave my dorm room or house doesn’t permeate as peppermint like it used to. It doesn’t link arms with me as I walk through the Christmas light decorations elaborately construed  throughout a park. It’s vibrant snowman, and other characters only appearing annually.

I remember one year before I officially wore the hijab, I took a picture with my mother in front of the large Christmas tree outside of a department store. Looking at the photo displayed on Facebook; our noses were the same, our eyes were the same, and for that moment we were in sync with whatever had happened that day. It’s all different now, but I can’t suppress the feeling of isolation around this time. Religion and family are so heavily tied together. This is where we birthed our traditions once more, year after year. So, although I spent Eid among fellow Muslims it was not at the same magnitude of the laughs from my family spilling throughout the house.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say here, but a tinge of sadness in December also shows itself.

Barcodes for women

Sitting with men, you pull your knees in a little tighter under the bench. Compact and not obstructive, you become someone’s leftover suitcase; on the bus stop, bench, and conference room.

You do this with your eyes. If you keep the eyes down, fixated on the ground, the pen, the glass of water, or the corner of the screen; this interaction won’t bother you.

Hands in your lap; playing with an invisible string, finding your pressure points, and tracing the lines of your palm; you sit with a man. Please don’t let him say anything about your red dress, your “boy-hair cut,” or un-found smile.

Softly pulling at the skin around your knuckles, you ask a man where you should place yourself.

“Here – on the low shelf?”

“Eye-level for an accessible scan?”