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.

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.

Self diagnosis: acute self sabotage 

Am I pretty? I hope one day when someone looks at me they seem something worth holding on to. She says all of this when she fixes her eyebrows in the mirror. Before walking out of her dorm, she fixes her shirt tucked into her skirt. Sucking in her stomach, a smile lends itself at the sunken in version of herself.

Am I annoying? Her eyes trace his shoulders as he disappears down the hallway. Sometimes she plants herself on the bench where he can see her. Today, I need to say hello, she thinks. One of her classmates sits down in front of her and strikes a conversation. This causes her to miss her chance to say hello into his brown skin.

Am I smart? She thinks back to when she finished her homework a week before it was due. Third grade set the bar too high. Now, she looks at the homework in her student planner, which she doesn’t finish until a few hours before her class starts. Participation points look like fumbling over basic sentences, and not making eye contact with anyone in your class. She’s butchered an analysis and skidded her way through a critique.

Am I good? Outstretched on her bed, she burrows her face into her blankets pretending to not hear her roommate get ready for class. She hopes that her roommate labels her a hard sleeper, and doesn’t stop to think for a moment how the girl is waiting for dead silence once the door shuts.

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?”

 

 

 

 

Body

I miss my body

Her collarbones her thighs her heart on sleeve

I took her apart,

And tried to tinker with parts of myself

I was insecure about

I felt as if no one could see me

The happier I would be.

I miss my body’s drape under cloth

Pouch of fat pinch of bone

Stretched under my skirt

When I saw my knees.

I miss my body’s sex appeal

How it uncoiled in my fingers 

As I played with the springs of my hair.

I miss my body’s sigh when I flirted with street walk 

And doused perfume over the tops of my breasts

In case I lean nearer to his breath.

I miss my body’s backbone 

Open to the sky

When I felt the grass touch my skin

I miss my body’s peek of tummy 

When her hands lazily brushed over it

Tugging at embroidered seam.

I miss my body’s warm shoulder

Kissed by the sun

Painting gold onto my collarbones

And forehead.

I miss my body

As if I no longer own it 

Under these clothes.

Forgive me.