my grandma spoke the language of milk and cardamom
she couldn’t fly but I swear she had wings
the world in her henna-dressed palms
rhythm of her heart still sings
hair trimmed with peacock feather wings
my grandma lives through stories
labour of a cinnamon brown woman
she lived without glories
paan leaves and cumin
her children crossed an ocean
threadbare clothes in tow
nowhere to go
her grandchildren water down their names
tongues swollen with apologies
for a land of hope and glory
Read more by Nashwa, here.
Nashwa Khan identifies as South Asian/African Diaspora and is currently studying creative writing at University of Toronto and Addictions Counselling at McMaster University. She holds a strong interest in narrative medicine and cultural competency. You can usually find her ranting on Twitter on the intersections of pop culture, health and race. Connect with her @nashwakay.
This Ramadan has been hard. The long summer solstice days and deep heat. The nation charged with racial tensions. The obligatory iftars, the late night taraweeh, the early suhoor. The problematic tafsirs with implicit “-isms” that are so triggering. The thirst, the faltering, the not knowing if your piety is enough, and the wondering why piety doesn’t entail feeling more.
It is in this time of chaos and reflection that I choose to write. It’s the only way I know how to calm my mind, to focus my feelings. I know that if I can commit myself to writing one poem every day, that in those words I find healing energy, time to reflect, and a connection with Allah. It is for this reason that every Ramadan I challenge myself to writing a poem daily.
This year marks the second year I’ve hosted an online Poetry a Day for Ramadan virtual writing group. With close to fifty members, the only rule for poets is they must commit to writing daily. They can share if they want to. Just write. Make art.
Trigger warning: Sexual abuse.
Slathering Mediterranean Rose bath gel over
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,
alone in my bedroom,
lying on top of my white chenille bedspread
amidst a field of pink and blue
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
feeling far better than the touch of anyone else or
including that of my Uncle Tony.
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 ?”
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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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 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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