Meaning: stranger, one without a home and thus, deserving of pity. Also: westerner.
on visits back your english sticks to everything.
your own auntie calls you ghareeb. stranger
in your family’s house, you: runaway dog turned wild.
like your little cousin who pops gum & wears bras now: a stranger.
black grass swaying in the field, glint of gold in her nose.
they say it so often, it must be your name now, stranger.
when’d the west set in your bones? you survive
each winter like you were made for snow, a stranger
to each ancestor who lights your past. your parents,
dead, never taught you their language—stranger
to everything that tries to bring you home. a silver sun
& blood-soaked leaves, everything a little strange
& a little the same—like the hump of a deer on the busy
road, headless, chest propped up as the cars fly by. strange
no one bats an eye. you should pray but you’re a bad muslim
everyone says. the Qur’an you memorized turns stranger
in your mouth, sand that quakes your throat. gag & ache
even your body wants nothing to do with you, stranger.
how many poems must you write to convince yourself
you have a family? everyone leaves & you end up the stranger.
From If They Come For Us: Poems (One World/ Random House, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Fatimah Asghar. Used with the permission of the poet.
Yallah habibti, move your tongue like the sea
easy. My big sister teaches me to ululate, rolls
her tongue in waves. Dips thin fingers inside
my mouth to pull out mine, stretches it long
and pinches the tip. Watch, we move tongues
like this. I see the walls of our father’s house
collapse and we swim free leleleleleleleleleee
On the ferry to Tangier I shriek across the sea.
Practice how to sound like a real woman. Old
aunties grab my buttocks, smush their breasts
against my back and sing leleleleleleleleleleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
Don’t cover your mouth habibti! Only women
on the upper deck, only sea. We move tongues
like this to tell the waves stay back, tell men
stay back, tell the dead stay gone, tell runaway
wives stay gone. They turn me into wisteria
woman, limbs wrapped around poles and thighs
as they guide me. Throw back your head, epiglottis
to the breeze. Salt air burns my hot membranes,
scratches at the tight knots of my chords.
All my life I was told
women must swallow sand
unless we are sounding
Copyright © 2018 by Seema Yasmin. This poem originally appeared in Foundry. Used with permission of the poet.