- Three Orgasms and a Veil | Six Seasons Review, Dhaka, Bangladesh (2016)
- Between Her Legs | UPL-Monsoonletters Anthology, Dhaka, Bangladesh (2014)
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No One Sings Lovesongs For My Countrymen
No one sings lovesongs for
my countrymen. Dhaka is a bloodshed letter
has always been;
in it mother says, child, listen
child, don’t bleed, child,
Dhaka is a broken lamp, rimming
tea-stalls behind the early hours of a dawn yawning
behind the men always standing by the storefronts, their hands
behind their back, backs
behind their dreams
behind their eyes following the road
in it, they wait
or sometimes, the lottery.
No one sings lovesongs for
my countrymen. They are the heart still beating
in this city’s bullet-ridden body
their footsteps march
have always marched
for days, years, decades
as though it is the only language they have ever known,
Dhaka is a half-alive son, a half-done protest
like an unfinished orgasm,
maybe to give birth to Freedom,
as though it is the only language they have ever known,
in it, the children don’t die
or on the wrong bus,
or while learning how to
curl their palms into fists,
in it, the children grow up,
for our countrymen.
i wanted to paint the atlantic across your face
I wanted to paint the Atlantic across your face
so that you’d know I’m not lying when I say that
the entire earth revolves around you, and that your eyes
have bits of New York buried in them.
I wanted to hold your smile and drop inks of it
in all five oceans so that the whole world
could taste the contagious joy of the boy
who laughs like the rattles of a monsoon rain
and weeps like a December snowfall.
I wanted to remind the world that your back
is the playground of my memories,
and the way it arches up against the sky on nights you’ve run out of pills and you’re trying to fight it out -
baby, that is stronger than the patience with which
a soldier waits to send letters home.
I wanted to run my fingers across the Amazonian depth of your hair,
as the waves of your bone fall into my curves in the kind of harmony
that storms and shooting stars are made of. I wanted to hold infinity
within the depth and length and breadth of your body,
so that the world would know better than to measure their feelings
against a number so powerless in the face of fate.
I wanted you to feel every inch of the rail tracks
that crawl through Dhaka’s slums, where mortals gather
in the nighttime to taste everything from acid to coal,
the price of their sweat unanswered for,
the tip of their tongue at the helms
of forgotten childhood songs.
I wanted to hold the world together with you,
and let the snowflakes rest for a bit
before mortals crushed them into the madness of mud and water;
I wanted to watch the oceans rise and the sunlight dim away,
our hands clutched together in a promise.
I wanted you to see -
in this crazy chaos of colours and coal, of wasteful energy and presidential debates -
how much this world forgets - everyday - about its own martyrs.
I wanted you to know that the world doesn’t fit into our palms
as they once said it would, and that in reality,
the Atlantic is huge, and it is impossible to find everyone and tell them that it’s okay,
no matter how fast we drive, how viciously we fight our wars,
we won’t beat the earth
at making revolutions.
I wanted to paint the Atlantic across your face.
I wanted to fit the entire world
within your five-foot existence
because only then could I proudly say to the sun:
“I have loved the entire earth and all its beings
without breaking a single bone in my body.
So, try me.”
to my father who doesn't know how to read poetry
My father doesn't know how to read poetry.
So he fixes his tie instead. At 7ams,
as I scramble with words in a language
his father's generation fought to conquer,
I sit, my head hung over
paper tapes and scribbled ink,
a handwriting he's forever been disappointed in,
three things, hoping they will make me unlearn love:
My mother's mirror
How to start living in war zones.
And just a few feet from me
my father sits with a cup of coffee brewed to the kind of perfection that he laughingly admits he doesn't understand,
reciting verses like nursery rhymes
the newspaper spread open in front of him.
Three things, about the different ways he could lose his daughters:
Acid thrown to her face
Acid thrown to her face after rape.
So when my door unlocks and distracts
my father who doesn't know how to read poetry,
he looks up as though the sun has just risen,
he looks up at his daughters who were never sons
but are daughters nonetheless
and as my sister sits nonchalantly sipping coffee, my father
listens to her plans for the day
taking mental notes, secretly
checking off instances that might or might not be
too dangerous for her,
secretly sighing reliefs
or silencing the alarms ringing on his radar,
while pretending to laugh over
her morning jokes. She doesn't know
the war this man fights everyday
wedged between a society that is out to destroy her
and a conscience trying not to be "overprotective"
and he nods with silent "hmm" or laughs along,
while making lists on his fingertips.
And before he takes off, he slides in
with his goodbyes, a murmur
"Don't be out too late" or
"Be safe", before that disappears
in the freshness of the morning scent
and there are bite marks on my skin
because I want to stop all this madness
for a moment - just a moment -
and tell him, that I see him
The man who doesn't know how to read my poetry,
I see him and the invisible universe
he carries on his back
and I see how it's left track marks across his skin,
and rough edges around his eyes,
and that they aren't as invisible as the weight
he carries on his shoulders.
But he is a man who doesn't know how to read poetry.
So I go back instead
to the ink splattered across my bedroom floor,
close my eyes, and tell the Sun
to thank the man, my father
who doesn't know how to read poetry,
whose life was split across borders, the man
who once knew how to laugh with the wind
without secret alarms going off,
I tell the Sun to thank him
and to tell him that I know
He may not know how to read my poetry
but he is the man who has raised daughters -
Warriors, taught them how to
navigate the unknown,
conquer the world, and he did not even need to be
the king of the world;
he just needed to be what -
from the age of three or eight or seventeen -
I knew to look up to when in search of light:
these days, it rains. and i carry a hundred letters in me.
i stand in the shower for longer than I used to,
making lists of how easy it is for people
from world maps.
the water trickles down my bare back
making river arteries that scatter
I think of one, two, eleven
women who have survived the years:
single mothers raising knights,
captives behind bedroom doors that close in the nighttime,
daughters who were never sons
but were daughters nonetheless,
or warriors who wear their emotions
as their armors. And it's fine.
they don't think about
disappearing from the world map
because it is not time for that yet.
they are survivors
trudging through the globe
putting their fingerprints
on war-torn areas,
healing the souls that break the backbone
of the universe.
and I think to myself:
millisecond. A millisecond is all it takes
to either save a life
or disappear from the map entirely.
and how brave,
that we make that choice
- to the women who choose to survive instead
today it is summer
and the ice cream trucks are out; nobody remembers the girl who died before December inched towards us slowly, like a conquerer's fingertips on the map of his empire. The girl whose father invaded her over and over again left her diary entries stacked in a box in someone's basement, somewhere in a forgotten New York neighborhood. That is the only way the dead live on - in cardboard boxes and basement corners. Like December, she is a thing to be forgotten, and written away on a calendar date. It is summertime and I lie on the grass, thinking of the thousands of empires that have collapsed across my body; it's funny mother worried so much about keeping my legs closed, but never told me how our bodies are mere war zones anyway, to be conquered over and over again.
aftermath: how to start living in war-zones
I wake up with last night's fingerprints all over me, Is it over? Is it over? Is it over?
Day one (second half)
We're corpses walking around the house around Gulshan around Dhaka our shocked silence playing piano chords across the skyline. Dhaka has become a ghost city and an overused hashtag, making even the skies mourn.
hasn't begun yet, and it feels like a lifetime has passed. I lay in bed. It is 3:24am and there are spirals of fear, angst, questions - a cobweb of emotions running turnstiles on the insides of my stomach.
I've checked the lock three times this hour just in case. There is silence splattered across the city, colonizing the alleyways, the occasional rickshaw bells, that space between Mother's words as she tries to put names to her prayers for the fallen. We all read Warsan Shire's poem wondering where it hurt realizing, everywhere, everywhere. Realizing, our bodies are mere world maps punctured with war wounds and a history that refuses to stop repeating itself.
Day two (second half)
Today is the first time I've left home, my hair smells of unslept nights, the shopkeeper sighs before I can even greet him and right there - I see it: How we became, overnight, a people who sigh before they can breathe, who sigh to mark their existence, a people of despair.
We sit around Iftar, trying to unlearn the names of our very own who pulled the trigger, trying to remind ourselves it couldn't be - can't be - one of us all the while secretly asking how, where, why.
We lay in bed, you and I - half naked, half asleep our interrupted dreams falling into this space we didn't know how to name; I laughed for the first time in days trying to believe that sometimes, love was worth it. There are heroes among us, I remind myself, despite all the differences of east and west black and white your eyes and mine there are heroes among us, who light the dark. The world is an abandoned building with unlit windows and blood on the walls, but some corners have candles, I remind myself, flickering flames. That's the thing about light, even a bit of it can remove the dark. Darkness, it needs to be so loud - so desperately loud - to make its presence mattered. Light just needs to be.
Old lovers have begun writing letters, turning over the hourglass of love, making it even more difficult to trace time, But I suppose that is what grief the size of a nation does: reminds you of past loves, reminds you to repent, reminds you to love again, however impossible. The girls at the orphanage are happy. We paint henna on their skinny wrists, and they tell us twisted endings of fairy tales. We sigh with hopelessness, they raise their eyebrows with wonder. It unlocks something in me that has been buried in an abyss since Friday: Hope.
My father is an old man. He likes that I played a song for the first time since; he lies down under a ceiling fan and cries like a thunderstorm. There are unknown names and unwarranted arrests, victims behind bars, politicians on thrones, sons haven't come home, or have mysteriously turned up cold, their corpses shrouded in childlike ignorance. And amid all this we whisper with clutched hands, “Where is my city? Where is my city? Where is my city?”
It is the end of the holy month. People are wearing new clothes, but can barely cover the growing wound the size of a wasted generation. The wound rots and we eat sweetmeats in between sighing about what happened, and pretending that it might get better. The newspapers have begun replacing bold headlines with advertisements and politicians are busy laughing matters off (naturally, as "isolated events" should be). After the celebrations, we stay up, locking and relocking the front door and kitchen windows before heading to cave into our forced insomnia - all over again.
It is still dark outside.
A week has passed and we have all joined hands to stare into a void so big, so piercing, so dark that we are blinded. Mother says, life as we know it has changed for three lifetimes, and TV tickers agree as we lie scattered - under ceiling fans on new and old beds in the arms of lovers our insides screaming silently:
What have we done?
What have we done?
What have we done?
Not everybody is a story.
Some people are poems
and they will break your body into syllables, wait
for you to rhyme
for the cups of your elbows to fall on the ground
like rainwater and they will take bits of that
to put you in meters,
try to measure love in the strands
of your hair, the tattooed back of your ankle,
the curves of your body
that mother taught you to paint over - listen,
not everybody will be a story.
they will come to you in flashes, maybe a line
or a word in an accent that you don't recognize
so learn instead to remember how they
filled your mouth
with the kind of magic you thought existed
only in shooting stars, remind yourself
of the way they left traces of themselves on your collar-bones,
their breath sucking the life out of you making you feel as though this - this is the only way you ever wished to be alive anyway - listen. forgive the man
who tried to fit an entire ocean into his backpack
and only drenched himself in the process:
he didn't know any better.
Forgive him for the way he believed he was reaching for pearls and seashells when his hands landed in the darkness of your soul.
Maybe he really didn't know that the deeper you go
the darker it is.
Maybe what matters is not
if they were a story or a poem
or even just a haiku across broken syllables.
Maybe what matters is that they were written
into the existence of a universe
and the universe
- how to love women who have been unloved (part v: notes to self)
Ampersand Dhaka 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Dhaka | October 2015
ideo: Taufiq Sufi
Performing at Subdrift NYC, October 2017
Photo: Subdrift NYC
All photography by Samira Sadeque unless otherwise stated.