Prologue to a Womanhood

Because dirt, my uncle called,
wore my human face,
into the window
of the abandoned home
where the boy and I
beetled miscible, like a trick,
through the teeming dark.

Because I bared my spine,
its soft gnarls,
for his fingers’ drizzle
to stir
and pry away the alarm
a woman comes
to know is her body.

Because in dining rooms,
aunties gathered to unscramble ayahs
and surveille immaculate windows
for unscarved girls,
their ringed forefingers
always heady with blame.

Because I hastened, a flash,
a mistake of speed.
And no matter how many times
I summoned foot to foot
for the untimely symmetry
of prayer, night after night,
swarming like locusts,
gregarious as Armageddon,
came the apparitions: my uncle,
siphoned forth in the antiseptic light,
watching the boy and I,
like a sore expelled from the center.

Because how easily I believed him,
smothered for months
that dark room beneath
the arsenic trail of my own
isolate fault and heaps
of pistachio ice cream
I dolloped all over
my sedentary, my criminal thighs.

Related Poems

Ideology

three girls ago
bloodroot: it was Eid
Al-Adha: a man

I loved shoved
my face into
German reeds

I can still feel his sweat
when I unsleep: the cleave
of his breath-lice

warming chains
of my necklace
I was without people

oh so summerful
I invented my girlhood
I languaged myself

a knife-body
yet all uncles said
I’m badly woven: bad

muslin: say forgiveness
comes easy say freckledirt
buried the faces

of my sisters: lakewarm
& plentiful—
we kiss we touch

we Magdalene each
other it’s true
during the adhan I pulled

down my tights
nylon black like the chador
of my mother

I licked from my yesterlove
the salt licked
real good—to pluck it again

I must whorl ad nauseam
for the addendum
of flesh the soft

sumac, cottonwood hard
as the nipples
he circled

we are singing
it’s spring and God to my song
is unlistening, unlistening

o Maryam o Miriam
o Mary we are undying
we are not gone

are not slayed we are
unslaying—our hand
wields this life

and I ply myself
out come here
between my legs     

come in          all are welcome        who believe

Uncles

The Bud Light crystallizing in the freezer
Hides high above a child’s reach

The Uncles table sits in the backyard of my mother’s house parties
The beer and barbecue footnote their good time

I go to greet them like daughter, like niece, like good girl,
They say. Like grown woman now, they say.

At what age did uncles stop seeing me as a little girl
Since when did they dress up my growth with their pick-up lines?

Each word sharpening a knife of bedside manner
Each nervous laugh covering up the names of women who don’t stay

Oh you’re a teacher now? They repeat with bedroom eyes
Teach me, they say. To my classroom, they say, I want to come.

The pork belly on the table I used to draw on as a kid
Curls in the cold air, sausage cackling char on the grill

Flatlining my red lips I paint for myself
My voice a fire extinguisher

Against all the family men who pretend family means
Things I can get away with

A myth of fragility trapping too many girls
Forced to call mercy

Each beer sip    a squeal silenced
Each man still a swine on the spit

ojha : rituals

Ojhas are [medicine men, “the ones next to God,” religious ministers or priests who deal with the daily struggles of the village people]; this dynamic allows the village ojha to control the circulation of rumors, and he is the village member who has the power to trap daayans (witches). In some trials, the ojha reads grains of rice, burn marks on branches, and disturbances in the sand around his residence, for signs of a daayan.

certain beliefs precede his name & yet
he goes by many : dewar, bhagat,

priest. passive ear, the kind

of listener you’d give
your own face.

+

first, the village must [agree
that spirits exist]—some benevolent,
some deserving of fear. everyone

wants their universe
to have reason. so it must be
a woman who stole your portion

of rice, woman who smeared
your doorstep’s rangoli, woman
who looked sideways at your child.

+

give him your gossip & the ojha conjures
herbs to [appease the evil] : her raving,
innocent mouth. & by that token
what is truth. the other rumors,

too, could corroborate—that bullets
pass through, his body barely
there but for the holy
in his hands.

+

he chants her name with fingers
pushed into his ears. just the sound
of her bangles
undoes : a single woman

on a plot of land, unbecoming.
he reads her guilt [in grains
of rice, in the light of a lamp,
using a cup which moves

and identifies]. makes a circle
around himself. white sand
between him &
the world. it’s the dead hour.

now, he shouts, arms covered
in ants, sing.