Poetry

jihad over my ribcage

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Once upon a time I was called a girl carrying two lemons, and she who said this the most, the one whose lips and deep voice I sensed regularly in my sour soft dreams, would compare my chest to tiny lemons or tangerines or tennis balls. And once she, whose lips and deep voice tickled my daydreams and nightmares and wet dreams, grabbed and squeezed and laughed and mocked, size zero she called me, and the presence of her hands felt so good, and years later, the memory of her hands felt so bad

 

Once upon a time I stuffed my baby bra with tissues so that her whose lips and voice shook my belly would stop comparing my body to lemons and tiny tangerines/  once upon a time I wished my lemons away after his hands touched me in my sleep and I felt my spirit step out of my body and leave, unable to handle the violence of the thing that the internet told me was “child sexual abuse” and when I got my spirit back the next morning she was broken but silent, and I prayed and prayed and prayed surah falak forever because every night my spirit would get up and leave and it felt so bad every time my body and spirit were torn apart and each shredded into powerless little pieces that pretended to be all-put-together, and years later, when the pieces did reunite again, it felt jarring/    because there are things my body remembers that my spirit has forgotten /   amnesia is necessary for survival, she says   / no, amnesia is a privilege, my body responds  / my spirit is still shook /

 

Once upon a time a man who I call father and abbu and babajan and king and hero and monster told me it was time to wear a dupatta when I wore a tight kameez because you know I was old now and you know, he was just saying it to protect me from the boys, because you know, his mother had given him special instructions on how to be a good father, and of course his mother meant everything to him because you know, he respected women, because you know it was her womb that birthed his agency, because you know she is my dadi after all, because you know we need to respect our elders, because you know feminism begins at home with respecting our elder women whose faces are etched with cracks of family labor, and you know he was a feminist because he had dedicated his life to being a puppet to an old woman who had seen so much violence, and you know its just a dupatta, just a piece of cloth, just an accessory, stop making it a big deal

 

Once upon a time there was a boy who kept looking at the lemon-like burdens I carried and I felt myself wanting a dupatta, wanting a chaadar, wanting to be naked, wanting a bandook, wanting a grenade, wanting an atomic bomb planted deeply under my ribcage that would blow up in his face as he looked and looked and looked and looked and — ha ha ha my bomb-breasts would explode into sharp shreds implanted in his destroyed face-rubble ha ha ha

 

Once upon a time my spirit felt like she owed too much to my broken body so I bought myself a low-cut shirt and a pushup bra in unprocessed efforts to reattach my body to my self to my spirit to my life. Once upon a time I thought that I needed to show the world that I could carry two sexy breasts and that the things over my ribs were my own to own, my own to fuck with, my own way to take away the violence embedded deep in the pores of my bulging skin, and so to honor my body, my spirit started to love the word breasts so much I would say it over and over again breasts breasts breasts breastsbreastsbreasts and let the stss sound hiss through my mouth through my vagina through my armpits through my ribcage through my utterances of surah falak

 

Now that child who giggled with thoughts of bombing boys straddles labels of gender clinging to my hips, undoes feminism handcuffed to my ankles, unravels the violence hanging heavily from my chest. but I still have wet dreams of her lips and deep voice mocking my size zero breasts, and I still have nightmares of his hands tearing apart spirit from body. Wa min sharri ghasikin iza wakab

 

Now my spirit is learning, is in awe of the spirits around me who also trans-ed out of rage, whispering surah falak, and binding my chest and gelling my hair back. Dupatta-hands-fingers-mockery-violence- – have culminated into – – Binder. I wonder if sexual violence turned me queer, and brush away the thought. I wonder if healing from sexual violence turned me trans, and brush away the thought. I run my fingers over my chest feeling the flatness, feeling the fantasies and dreams and nightmares living underneath my ribcage, and brush away my need to connect cause with effect, and step into this life feeling a little more attuned, a little less panicked, a little more weaponed, a little less armored

 

/Once upon a time I ran away from my gender because boy meant violence/

/But now I am becoming boy to avenge all the boys who made me run away from my gender/

 

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ramzan ruckus

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i)

remembering. ramzan nine years ago. getting ready for an iftar party where the palao served was too salty, even for me. ma, pinning my duppata on my left shoulder with the brooch nani ami gave her. baba, teaching his thirteen year old son how to tie a tie, no creases, no bumps, yes it must be straight. like most of my memories, i hate this one too, and not because i wanted to swap places with my brother, but because i wanted ma to tear apart the duppata and instead teach me how to sew it into a big fat bow tie so i could wear nani ami’s brooch in the middle of it, rest it below my throat under the absent shadow of an adam’s apple that never grew

remembering. how nine years ago i refused to pray maghrib after that bad iftari and the aunties shook their heads in silent disapproval. it was my first public anti-prayer rebellion. i secretly prayed qazah that night. fully naked. to practice vulnerability with allah, to mark difference from the communal prayer. eyes closed, so that when i went into rukuh, i wouldn’t peek at my stretch marks, at the alien hair growing out of unshavable places. i went into a long sajda that night remembering how my islamiat teacher had told me that we are closest to god when we are in sajda. i stayed that way until i slept, with my back to the dirty sky. i was vulnerable in love

ii)

now. i am alone. i hated praying with others but there are none to stand alongside me tonight. no aunty to give me a lecture, no mother to pin a brooch, no suffocating ittar smell to give me headache, no ramzan palao gone too salty

now, my prayer mat looks just like me: dusty, sad, unmoved since last ramzan. today i unfold it as i unfold myself. i am scared to pray again. i fear i may have forgotten the sequence, forgotten the movement, forgotten the words i have memorized in a language i secretly despise (yes, it’s that mixture of internalized islamophobia and saudi imperialism) i fear i may re-learn too much of a faith i need to not know much about. to survive. i fear i may hate it too much once i learn it too much

yesterday, someone who seemed so much more muslim than me told me that sex is a form of ibadat. sex, like worship, can be beautiful, vulnerable, frightening, violent. god too can feel like a nurturing lover one night and an abusive narcissist at others. faith comes with the risk of heartbreak. i have risked heartbreak. i have gone into sajda many times, sometimes on a sad prayer mat that looks too much like me, sometimes on her soft bush, my face embraced by her thighs, my fatihah laced with her moans. i have made myself vulnerable in love

iii)

tonight. is chaand raat. i will go into sajda as the moon tries to peek through the dense clouds of smog. teasing. tantalizing. licking the lids of apprehension on eyes that gaze their dirty skies for a glimmer of Her, a glimmer of something to break the monotony of this loveless capitalism

tonight i will recite fatihah and i will mean it. tonight i will even recite darood and i will mean it. and i will lower my head in sajda, bow down with my back to the teasing moon, rest my forehead on her stubble, put my faith in Her rubble, and stay like that for a long long time. on these lonely nights, i like feeling close to allah as She weeps the earth blurry. on these lonely nights, i like holding her close as she sleeps in restless worry. so i will stay that way until the crack of fajr, with her bush under the absent shadow of an adam’s apple that never really grew

Tum Aur Lahore

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Despite the borders and histories and impossibilities etched into our lives, I still plan for when I’ll introduce you to Lahore and Lahore to you. I think you both would be able to share wounds, admire each other’s earrings, enjoy some alaichi chai

Your brown would look so beautiful surrounded by Lahore’s, but I’ve told myself over and over again that you and Lahore are not meant to meet, that sometimes circumstances are just so queer that even the safest softest closets cannot straighten them

But I plan still

To show you the long legs of Maall Road with the kind of stubble I know you’ll find sexy for its i-don’t-give-a-fuck flair; to slide with you into the inner crevices of the reddened walls of purana Lahore and spot that one blue kite flying amidst the orange heat; to feel the moist sponginess of the monsoon air; to tickle the erect tips of Badshahi Masjid’s minarets; to kiss with our mouths open and catch the smoke of centuries on our tongues—you see, when it comes to Lahore, even the clichés feel so good

When it comes to Lahore, even the most mundane act amongst sullied roads becomes a romantic cliché

Like the ice cream cone from the roadside stand in Liberty bazaar I so deeply want to share with you, watch the whiteness of the cream diffuse into your tongue, watch you hold the cone as I recount to you how getting ice cream from a street stand became my favorite thing to do in the evenings, tell you how I used to imagine eating that ice cream off of you, tell you that there is no better place to fantasize about our sex than amidst honks and dupattas and aging rickshaw cylinders

You see, when people ask me if I was born with the queer gene or if something ruined me later in life, I want to tell them that I was born into queer by being born into Lahore. You see, there is something so deliciously feminine about this city that the strength of it lingers on my tongue months after I leave it

Perhaps the intricacies and difficulties and love of Lahore have taught me to taste you properly, to travel through your crevices and find your tender spots, have taught me that the walls that guard your heart are made with the toughest red bricks but can soften up with a glance, that there is so much rare beauty in your layers and nuances and shadows (the kind that fell asleep and buried itself deep in my lungs (the kind that makes me smile every time I smoke and see clouds of you coming out of me))

So when I told you I love your rawness, this is what I meant: that perhaps you remind me of a place that is so bruised and bold, but so delicious and sweet still, whose femininity swallows buildings and bazaars but gags on men—refusing to take them in— the unswallowable men who colonize, terrorize, globalize, the men who force us into an exhausted rage

So when I want to bring you to this city perhaps I just want you to feel that something deep within Lahore— despite its men, despite its visible upper class, despite its global bullshit— is in solidarity with our love

feminist theory

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this draft blowing from the yawns of my window is chilly/ but i sit next to it anyway wrapped in my mother’s shawl unable to move/ unable to tug at the curtains who shudder lonely despite being next to me/ we are all alone in this sisterhood after all

 

i look outside my window for the day i was a part of their women’s movement, the day I discarded this shawl and trampled over the uneducated yellowing grass with no guilt/ outside this unventilated apartment where the smell of garlic after a light sauté now lingers for more than a day

 

and like this faint garlic odour, i linger next to the window suspended by the flimsy threads of my convictions/ but when things get too lonely on the cusp of this cold wind and my hot anxiety/ i do try scrambling for remnants of faith of mother of home but it is difficult to scramble with frozen limbs

 

what else did i expect when the ground waltzed away from under me leaving me hovering, breathless and/ unable to understand how she could’ve been so certain about her moves while i clung terrified/ to garlic smells and drafts that chill me static

 

once upon a time when i was grounded, i felt less yellow than the tips of  winter grass/ and i felt confident not because i was kind of green, but because she was more weak/ i should’ve known then, that the feminism they taught me was more about disempowering other women than about empowering ourselves

Shuttling

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i am tired/ of shuttling between the binaries of mullah and white/ of defending the worst parts of me my history my trauma/ of constantly laboring to shatter stereotype to complicate your simplistic reductive bullshit that makes me want to give up the parts of me that are meant to be the most radical

your mullah, your imam, your man who holds hadiths like knives makes me defend the feminist movements that have harmed my mother my grandmother my aunties, makes me suck up to your imperialism, sows my mouth shut when the white cis gay man shrouds me in this rainbow veil/ i do not know how to critique the neoliberalism and colonialism behind feminist and queer movements when my womanhood and queerness is being charred slowly by the sparks of the holy quran/ in the name of god who is most merciful and kind but only in his tyrannical ways

your white, your western, your liberal makes me defend the religion the culture the traditions that i always ran away from, makes me suck up to all things islam, sows my mouth shut when my own brown men shroud me under their protective possessive violent gaze/ i do not know how to critique surah nisa and the thirteenness of khadija-zainab-saffiya-ayesha-etc.etc. behind the faith that has protected me against the swords of whiteness that do not slay, but only probe me slowly split my skin slowly/ you don’t kill straight-up you maim bruise torture me islamophobia

i’ve had enough of this shuttling/ of defending the violence of my brown muslim men in the face of your islamophobia, of defending the colonial violence and prescription of my western-educated feminism and queer liberation in the face of your blasphemy laws/ i am tired of shuttling between your islamophobia your blasphemy your mosque that pushes women to the back your fucked up imperialism your pinkwashing your homonationalism/ when will i give up this defending this justifying this explaining this educating/ when will i finally give up this body, this womanness, this ism, this islam, this muslimness, this brown queer bullshit that is supposed to make me radical but only makes me want to/ wash away my brown, tear apart my quran, vomit out my womyn my queer my desire, and surrender to you/ all of my shields and all of my explanations and all of my contrived broken strength

lessons of love

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the women in my family taught me how to love women by not loving men          no, they are not lesbians or queer or whatever labels you stick onto me, but they refused so wholly           to succumb emotionally to men

the women in my family are embodiments of light because they could not get tied to false ideas of hetero romance           yes, they spat out the lies fed to them by the afsanay they read the films they watched

the women in my family married men for circumstance, not love

and this is not their tragedy but their ferocity

[yes, this is not some sad poem about their oppression but a testament to their battle, to their unwavering courage]

the women in my family have been fighting since they hit puberty, and some even before then, and they do not tire           they labor on and on in the kitchens and bazaars and gardens by closing their hearts to men even when they can’t close their legs, by rising through hardened mud to build suns for their daughters

my mother has held the entire fucking world on her breasts and she still stands straight always             my phuppo learned to make love to god after learning that the man she called husband could only make rape, not love, to her           and my nani has had her head filled with clouds since she got married, and yet she never let it rain            because the women in my family are goddesses whose kisses planted wings on my back, who filled their own voids by loving each other, who taught me to look beyond the hetero romance ideas being drilled into me from all the arenas that were controlled by men

the women in my family taught me the different colors of love, the multiple directions that I can get and give love, the million ways of drinking and savoring and holding love so deep inside me, and none of these teachings           ever involved men

body stories (part iii)

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a few thousand years ago when i was crashing into rocks and giving birth to this body burden i sprouted a forest on my chest of two little touch-me-nots and the right one became touchable first

my right nipple: i touched it when i was seven to see what it would feel like and i liked the feeling so i tickled it and used a feather on it and later forgot all about it when i discovered my clitoris, the long span of childhood isn’t different from one night of sex is it? the nipple just gets forgotten under the thunder and rain of other body parts

now it is just a sore, wrapped up, padded up, pillowed part of me that you are not meant to see, that I am not meant to talk write scream moan cry about even if it cracks and bleeds and milks and flowers but I am developing slowly a practice of love and care and compassion

so, the first thing i do when i come back to my apartment from a day of laboring under this white sky against white walls is take off my bra unbuckle it from under my shirt squeeze my arms through the shoulder straps slip the cage through my sleeve without taking off my shirt first

you see, i’m just lazy like that, but i will let this right nipple of mine breath freely when i can when the white walls aren’t closing in when the hybrid monster of memory-oblivion will allow me some respite

what happens if you clip a touch-me-not from the stem, does it react, does all feeling die then, does it become touchable for the whole goddamn world? after all my critical theory books imply that there may not be any such thing as consent in a world ruled by ideology, ugh i will feed this book to the memory-oblivion monster, let him chew it and vomit it out while riding a merry-go-round

you see, i just don’t like it when my right nipple is taken lightly, or taken too seriously that it has to turn into a theory, my body is not a theory for your academic consumption

my right nipple is air and wood and earth and fire it burns and gushes and sometimes it creates a breeze and sometimes it hurts like hell, like today it hurt and i did not know what to do should i call the doctor or should i hold it and sooth it myself, i always choose the latter

you see, my nipple is a landmark that I don’t want inspected by some doctor, it holds the vestiges of my seven year old fingernails, the residue of her hot saliva, drippingdripdrip downward as her tongue rolls and circles against my heavy moans,

you see, my nipple is not for inspection under your microscope, it is a historical site, but not for historians no, these salivatory drips and red hot aches and cotton padded cages, none of these can be archived

there are no visible remains

so, I put my hand under my shirt and touch the softness softly and my nipple feels like

it is made of nothing