I groggily grab my phone. It’s 3 am, and I’m on a business trip to Chicago. I have a missed call from my little sister. I call her back immediately. I can hear that she is scared to tell me, to be the messenger of bad news. She tells me that my Nana has died. She knows how I hate to be told about deaths over the phone; I was told of both Mom and Nani’s death in similar late night calls. She says that he died in the ambulance going to the hospital from his home in Dhaka.
“Okay,” I respond, unemotionally. I check myself: no feelings. Just empty.
On some level, we had been expecting it. He was 87 years old and his health had been deteriorating for the past few years, ever since my Nani died. They were married when he was 21 and she was 16. He had lived for her. Without her, his mind unraveled.
When I went to Kathmandu to care for him in the summer of 2013, he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, my family had not told me this at the time – they had just said he was a cantankerous old man. Overwhelmed and alone, I pieced it together after reading the labels on the boxes of pills I was administering to him daily. Those two weeks alone with him in that dark cold house were easily one of the most traumatic, mind-spinning periods of my adult life.
Eds. Note: Read columnist Deonna Kelli’s response to this piece: “Dating White, Dating Brown”, here.
“I have some questions about things you’ve written about,” John asked last week. We were chatting during happy hour at the annual conference where we meet and catch up. He is one of few white folks in my circle of friends.
“It was an article in which you talk about how difficult it is to date,” he continued. “I don’t understand. You’re smart, attractive, and confident. Do you feel like its Los Angeles? Do you only date Muslim men?”
“Dating in Los Angeles is harder than other cities I’ve lived in. And no, I haven’t dated Muslim men exclusively. Though, when it comes to choice, which is what online dating is all about – that’s what I would prefer. But I am open.”
“What about dating white guys?”
“I don’t date white men,” I state frankly.
The phone rang, waking me from deep morning slumber. Naturally, I don’t pick up, though when I see the number my heart skips a beat.
It’s my college roommate. She never calls me. In the past decade since graduating, our lives took very different paths. The only times I hear from her are for celebrations or deaths. She called me for her engagement, marriage, baby one, and baby two. What else could be left – it must be sobering news.
Sure enough, a text message follows: “Give me a call as soon as possible.”
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.
I stare at the palms of my hands, as if seeing them anew. They are fairer than I remembered, plumper and drier. All the tiny crinkles have deepened and the slash of my life line has lengthened.
I turn my hands on their sides slowly, looking at melanin’s soft edges. A short, thick, straight black hair is growing out of the side. I pluck it out, firm and deft. I notice another black hair, and then another. I pluck out each one. As I pull the last one out from the plush pad of my palm, it stretches, long and dense. It is a wet, raven-black feather. As I hold it, the shiny feather dries, quickly turning lush, but still as dark as night. I am amazed that it sprang from my skin.
With a startle, I wake up. My eyes open slowly and I stare at the shadows the gray morning light throws on the popcorn ceiling. Under the covers, I clench my hands, tracing their familiar smoothness. No hairs. No feathers.