All Along, I Laid, Halved

The lake was (all along) a reservoir.        

                                My third grade trip was to a dam. 

All along, I wore nothing but hand me down sweaters.

                               I grow at the mercy of my mother. 

Everytime. I height. At the mercy. Of someone. Else.

                                When I put my forehead on the floor fives times a day.

It will be game over.

                               My third grade self played squash.

My third grade self could have continued playing squash.

                               A child is an investment to a future.

Because now. 26. Fat. Drenched dreaming. Of figure skating. 

                               I can’t even sit straight. I look out of windows.

Do you know what a country smells like?

                               Not home. Never home. (All along) Not me.

Smells like teen spirit.

                                Smells like sweat moustache.

Smells like mercy lighting up a dam.

                                Every sleep I was consumed by a bonfire. No music. No dance. 

I don’t hate it here.

                                I don’t hate it anywhere.

But it’s hard hearing my mother cry on the toilet.

                                It’s hard hearing the winter knock up New York.

It’s hard breathing in smog and realizing (all along) it was Lahore.

                                All along, it was just me.

But did I even know?

                               In third grade, I ate a whole box of chalk.

In third grade, I witnessed a freed pigeon return to where it was homed.

                               In third grade, they found me. Without proof. At the squash court. Hustled.

I only know ill.

                               I only know mercy.


                               Have mercy.

I spend my day shifting light bulbs to create company with my shadow.

                               I spend my day resting halved in warmth and shade.

I know what it will take to not burn me.

                               But I do not step out of the house.

And the house never steps out of me.

Related Poems

Turnpike // Ghost

Wrong morning, late train, I wearing red for you.
A girl-thief. Startled,

the train lurched between two smokestack towns.
The subway, eye of a concrete needle.

Orchids, purple-furred. Trashed along with the orange peels.
Tulip-wearer. I never understood Brooklyn,

how a place could be bigger than it was.
The bartenders ask if I want another before I’ve had a first.

You, frost-eyed, a lake in the pocket of your khakis. I launder,
fold the warm clothes,

find a porch inside them. You call me home. Home.
What an Oklahoman sky is made of:

arrows in red dirt, quilt in the home team’s colors.
Chimes to announce the wind.

My father wanted a suburban lawn. Warm biscuits at Red Lobster.
He knows America as equation to be memorized,

ghost + furniture + eastern turnpikes. Fog as home.
The expressway, congested with commuters,

cars that steer back the way they came. I never did learn to drive.
Even if I wanted to leave, I couldn’t.

New Jersey

I was afraid the past would catch up with me,
would find this new house too like the scarred
old childhood home. But it hasn’t yet. A tree
casts soft and gentle shade over our green yard.
I feel forgiven all the sins I didn’t commit
for long minutes at a time. What were they?
I can’t now think of anything wrong with me—I fit
in these rooms, can mostly agree to each day.
For long minutes I don’t even blame my mother
for dying, my father for spending years in bed.
My little traumas are just souvenirs of other
lives, of places I might have once visited.
I’m mostly a father here, a husband, barely a son.
The big sun rises early here, as I do, with everyone.

Writing Home

An absence declares
its blunt self. I can’t believe the extent
of my luck, heard twice, like violets
in a bath of lukewarm water.
The city was my father’s though none
of its sweetness appears here living
before you. A strong instrument.
A blowing on the hands
and neck. A curtain almost open.
I inherited a stiff collar sewn
against loveliness where once
we must have walked freely into
the city square and gathered
there like an intention. Two lips bloomed
on my mother’s cheek. I felt
a heavenly peace. Here, the marker you
might have waited for: ancient
dough, rolled and fried. These days
the lyric’s sentiment floats
away from me. Like a river someone
forgets to bless. Memory, to memory,
to the dirt path opening
again in a dream. I have not been back
for so many years. I walk the distance
in my mind, the margins flowing by
like so much foreign water.