Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.
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The 2nd Pillar of Islam Was the Hardest
Prayer always came at the worst times:
just as my brother and I were poised to wrestle for the prize
of Julie’s 9-year-old heart or in the middle of a street football game
when I finally got my turn to be quarterback.
That’s when my mom’s voice rang out like an opera singer
from her kitchen window, “Salah, boys, time to pray!”
I could almost hear the glass breaking in every apartment,
the stinging of jagged shards peppered all over the grass
as we ran home barefoot—too quickly to explain to our American friends
what prayer meant in the middle of the afternoon when school
was long over and the real fun was just beginning.
Pot Roast and Imperial Justifications
“how come you don’t cover your hair?”
my breath punches out of me in one big gasp
as I pretend not to hear her
“so how come you don’t cover your hair like all the women in your country?”
she asks me again
persistent, insistent, she is unaware that there is any problem with her question
I am slow to answer
trying to sort out what just happened
30 seconds ago
we were talking about our lives as immigrant women
as two South Asian women
we shared the same story of discovering the real underbelly of the Great Canadian Dream
the search for the better life that somehow deflated into disillusionment
she, was an art history professor back in India
my father, a mechanical engineer in Pakistan
she works for a janitorial company cleaning offices
my father could not even get a job in a gas station
Mohammed was too Muslim sounding a name in a country
where everyone suddenly morphs into Moe to make it easier on those
white canadians who can’t be bothered with the correct pronunciations of our difficult foreign sounding names
You make me yearn for my mother tongue.
My brown fingers intertwine yours as I pull you, eedhigay, towards me,
Lips graze your neck, asthay, as my instincts form soft sounds,
Saved only for special people.
“Choloh” I whisper in your ear as I tug you into the dark.
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Warsan Shire’s poetry leaves us breathless and aflame. She is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer based in London. Born in 1988, she is an artist and activist who uses her work to document narratives of journey and trauma. Follow her blog, Twitter and tumblr and get her book, Teaching my mother how to give birth, here
“The Letter My Mother Would Have Written Had She Known English” by Warsan Shire
The women in our family are known for their lucid hearts
For the frightening vigour with which they love
And they way they let men eat from their open chests
As if their insides alone could offer redemption
As if their flesh could create portals for men to escape
The ugliness that they themselves created in this world.
If I could do it all again
I would’ve raise u in the sergenti
Where we could face east five times a day together and pray
Where the simple things would leave me enough time to tell you how much I love you
Daughter, I would raise you with my knees and fingertips
Small mercies would make u pious and all my children would love me more
Our faces would be ash covered
Hair laden with the winds of the harmattan
Your father would see the beauty in me that can only exist when he looks at me
And my stretch marks would be worth it all.
But this reality is not in shades of pink
Like the dolls with the fake smiles that you would
Point at, and I would say inch Allah
Knowing that I could never afford them.