Breast Self-Examination: A Poem

Trigger warning: Sexual abuse.


Slathering Mediterranean Rose bath gel over
my breasts,
preparing for my monthly
hands slipping and sliding as the
sweet-smelling aroma of rose rises
to my nostrils,
taking me away from the present task,
transporting me back to
numerous summer afternoons,
long ago,
alone in my bedroom,
lying on top of my white chenille bedspread
amidst a field of pink and blue
yarn-tufted flowers,
eyes rolled back into my head,
breathing long and steady,
perky nipples perched
atop minute mounds of soft flesh
that in my 13-year old mind
passed for a woman’s breasts,
nipples as hard as
fresh-shucked sweet peas,
the touch of my own hands
lightly pinching
feeling far better than the touch of anyone else or
anyone since,
including that of my Uncle Tony.

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I Am

Nashwa K

Nashwa Khan


Eds. Note: Please welcome Nashwa Khan, whose column “Mamool For Breakfast” will be appearing the first Tuesday of every month!

“What are you?”

I am both cursed and blessed,
Feeling so deeply,
I am woman and song,
I am pages of unfinished stories.

“Where are you from?”

I am from a mix of fierce and fragile,
honey and salt,
creation and destruction,
from the earth, sky and ocean.

“Where are you originally from ?”

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Poem for people who ask me when I “went natural”


I was brought up in a kitchen

with a towel around my neck

and a hot comb hissing

I was born

half past a yellow bone

with fine tooth combs that broke upon third use
I was born with beadies at the back of my neck

brushed quickly in the morning

I was born South Carolina dry

something like twine and cotton

in my grandmother’s hands
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Silent Dhikr

Key Ballah

Key Ballah

1. My name is too long to fit into the tiny space of your mouth.

2. My God is too big to be affected by the pebbles you throw with your tongue.

3. I am too beautiful to care whether your sons are comfortable with the black fabric in place of my bare skin.

4. My father’s beard is none of your business.

5. My mother’s henna spotted hands can strangle the appropriation out of you.
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My body is not an invitation

Key Ballah

Key Ballah

He said my name like a ghost.
A whisper from behind.
A quiet wind
hot and hollow.
He said it lazily and slack mouthed,
not parting his full lips wide enough to let every letter through.
He said it without the sigh of relief at the end
that it needed to sound familiar,
like it was not so sweet it could make his eyes water.

I should have known.
I should have known what kind of man he was
when he held his tongue between his teeth and let his eyes off their leash
to roam unapologetically the holy plains of my body.
Eyes that didn’t deserve a single follicle of my hair
let alone the entire garden of my being.
With his hungry eyes and half smile,
he watched,
he looked,
he took something from me.
I should have known then,
that he was dangerous.

But they don’t teach you how to recover from feeling powerless in school, how to spot a wolf in the skin of a man. They don’t give you a step-by-step guide to claiming or reclaiming your voice, a how-to on finding your agency when you are scared and your skin is crawling. So, like the sticky-fingered boys in elementary school, I ignored his disregard for the boundaries of my womanhood, my humanity.
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Arnesa B

Arnesa B

They ask me why I always wear black.

And I answer, “I am in mourning”.

They ask me who am I mourning.

I’m mourning my grandfather, I say.

They found his bones 10 years after his head was cut off, Quran in hand.

I’m mourning my uncle too; his remains still not found. I wonder how much he suffered.

I’m mourning my grandmother, killed by the grenades that left her son handicapped.

I’m mourning the thousands of Ahmeds, Aishas and Fatimas massacred for being Bosniaks, for being Muslim. I’m mourning my Bosnia, the land of milk and honey.

I’m mourning Palestine and her olive trees. I’m mourning Palestine and the land my friends will never get to see.

I’m mourning Palestine and her rascal children, now gone.
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If God gives me the privilege of giving birth to a daughter

Eds. Note: We are pleased to welcome our newest columnist, Key Ballah! Catch her column – Brown Girl Dreaming – the second Wednesday of every month.


Key Ballah


You are a woman
every part of you reaches toward that identity,
but you hesitate, cutting your tongue on the way that it sounds.
your mother is a woman and the word rests against her so gently.
Her hips are full,
her mouth is wide,
the word “woman” just seems to embrace her.
But you feel it hanging off of you, like a T-shirt three sizes too big.
You say, “I am not a woman, I can’t feel it throbbing yet,
I have not bled long enough yet, or bent back far enough.”

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