Category: Uncategorized

Eating lemons with sugar (Reflection on childhood)

Sometimes I do not want to tell my story. I sit there listening to everyone else’s description of their old neighborhoods or how such-and-such relative said yes or no to change. My silence becomes stuffed with assumptions of how my story is told.

Once, I sat with a group of women outside on a terrace. Protected from the sun’s beams, each went around the circle and told how location raised us all. Country borders had brought a few of them to realize how their lives could have been dramatically different. They could have nursed multiple children, but instead they sat in iron chairs comparing philanthropic discussion. The privileges blew clouds above us. I watched as some recalled a time that was much similar. A part of me sat there and wanted to claw at the air with my hands how life could not be bottled. I cannot tell my stories without feeling as if those around me understand what I truly mean.

I wasn’t born into this…but it’s a choice to observe these rituals.

I wasn’t exclusively oppressed, but I know of chains that exist solely in the mind.

I wasn’t denied access to resources, but we hid the fact that we used them.

I had moved several times in my life. Each city brought different views of the same sky. In the background, things I have learned to covet about myself could not be good enough for the new home. In third grade, I used to sing. When I took a shower or a bath in our brick house which seemed as if we would live in it forever, I sang loudly.. When the cars of both of my parents were packed with our most essential things, I left my voice behind in our old house. As we backed out of the gravel driveway, the trees which had the etched initials of my best friends could no longer be a part of me. I could not sit out there in the rain, on one of the higher branches and rub my fingers over those grooves. I didn’t cry  when we left for a different state. In the embrace of my friends,I told them I would come back. It would not be long, but it was. Years had gotten between us, and I had visited once only to find how much I didn’t fit inside my old school. The stairs I could not run up and down as quickly, and skip two at a time. Familiar faces no longer worked there, and ones who did – did not possess the same wonder I had once found.

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.

 

The trellised fence (draft)

Bending down, I picked up the shards of the locket’s glass face. A sepia toned picture of my grandfather smiled up at me, as the tears lined the sides of my face. It finally happened. I knew she had enough of this family, and would leave for good.

With the plumes of incense smoke rising to the ceiling, I saw her favorite book on the recliner. Half-way through the poetry anthology she had read more than five times, I wondered if the bookmarked page had predicted the moment she would leave. She was like that after all. A word, a phrase, a scent took her away from the present and threw her into the need to get away from wherever she was.

In my hand, I saw the metal back carved into criss-crossing triangles on the locket. Mom had worn it last. The clasp, full of my sister’s curly hair, had been replaced twice. We rummaged through antique stores, and thrift stores to find a clasp the same tint of the metal. Somehow, I thought we picked out a worn-out piece, which would break just as easily. Yet, a new clasp would not do. Old things are meant to be preserved with ones just like them. My sister had said this over dinner. Mouthful of fried rice, she explained that it was betterthat  she wouldn’t be young forever.

“I’m tired of not knowing,” she said tapping her chopsticks on the side of her bowl.

“You say that now,” our uncle said. “Doesn’t get better from here on. You get wise not invincible.” Lifting one of the vegetable dumplings from the middle platter, I watched him smile between bites at our mother.

A knock came from the door.

I placed the few pieces in my hand onto the side table. A vase full of daffodils, my mother’s birth flowers, stood there alongside two sets of keys. Whoever knocked the first time, waited patiently. Before I turned the latch, I peered through the peephole. A young kid with black bangs fraying out of his snapback held one of my sister’s shoes in his hand.

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.

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.

A ‘We’re closed’ sign

I’m afraid that I don’t really love you. Perhaps, I imagined the two of us pushing our legs near each other’s, under the dining room table. Your knees jutting  into my thighs slightly shifting the fabric of my skirt. Sometimes, I think I’m afraid of the days that come after you.

What will happen a spring, a summer, and a winter from now? I’ll trace your laughter on to the frosted window pane in my parent’s car. I’ll dream up your face, where if only I reach out…you are real. You are wrapped in brown packing paper carrying sticky rice, with pieces of fried fish. One day, I laughed into the wisps of your hair. Smoke waltzed in and out of the kitchenette.

I waited by the stove just so I could be warm. I don’t know if I love you yet. A part of me awaits this sinking gut feeling where it hurts too much not to say a word.Yet, look at how our whirlwind never touched.

I really want to miss the backbone of you as you walk out. Yet, somehow deep down I know that it’s not worth crying over another brief moment in time. You cloud me into feeling sorry that I loved you.