Sep 21
Sunday

Issue I, Volume VI : September 2014

Tarfia Faizullah - Poetry

FaizullahTarfia Tarfia Faizullah's work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, Passages North, diode, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize and a Bread Loaf Writers' Conference scholarship.
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Namesake
To honor a dead child in rural villages in Bangladesh, an elder will give an orphaned child the same name as the dead.
 
 
i.
 
Something in the soil wants
to wrestle free—her name,

an amulet, a curl of hair held
in a gnarled fist. Unfasten her

name & give it again, while
the light is still a gash. In this metal

shack, I was born, as was my son
—I know failure is a blue urn

filled with ash, but I can make her
live. My daughter-in-law named

her & named her: pale apogee
of her round belly emptying

a granddaughter into my arms.
Someone brings a girl forward:

yes, this one. Pale as a rib. Oh
child, granddaughter, son—

the light is a sewn-shut mouth.
I cannot make her live. Heart,

remember drowned rice fields, the sky
now a white fist, withholding rain—
 
ii.
 
We drive to Grandmother’s shack
more slowly than we ever have­—
 
the rain becomes mud until loose
sunlight spills, momentary
 
as this child squatting in a torn,
yellow shirt. We pass vendors
 
selling mangoes, pineapples, stacks
of orange soda lukewarm in glass bottles—
 
iii.
 
We must, Shelley wrote, first
have recourse to death before

we examine the causes of life
:
Father points out his childhood
 
to us along the way: a path of stones
grown over by a field, wet palm leaves
 
thrown by laughing children running
through rain. My face turns away
 
from such easy happiness.
 
iv.
 
When Grandmother died, Father sobbed in the West
Texas Area mosque. I listened behind the wall
 
separating us from the men. The clock ticked
behind him, inside him, mounted on the teal
 
and gray walls. I was ashamed to hear him
cry. Mother was silent. The men, too, were silent.
 
v.
 
When we arrive, Father pulls out his new camera,
unfolds a shell-white prayer cap from his pocket—
 
we stand before the red brick headstones, our heads
bent in prayer. His head bent in prayer. I am instead
 
listening for the scratch of a whittled branch carving
names in the dirt. It is my younger self, sitting
 
a few feet away on the steps of Grandmother's shack,
shoving her glasses up her nose with a hand wet
 
with tears or rain. Inside, a lone candle flickers
behind the wrought-iron window. If wax can be
 
made into a death mask, what is a candle, then,
but memento mori? Two eye-holes. One mouth.
 
vi.
 
The light is a sewn-shut mouth. Inside,
relatives have laid out a feast worried
 
over, bought with the week's earnings:
hardboiled eggs fried with paprika, oil
 
spreading on our chipped plates, flatbread
rolled from rice flour. A whole chicken,
 
newly plucked that morning, rests in a bowl
circled by a faded blue border. Corpses throw
 
the living into horrible relief—we must
eat each meal with their bodies in our
 
mouths. The kerosene lamp throws
its light everywhere but our dark faces.
 
vii.
 
Someone brings a girl forward: pale
as a rib, her eyes pale too. Her name
 
is my sister's name. It was not rightfully
given to her. It was not rightfully given, no—
 
the power goes out. In the dim light, I squint
my eyes and walk out towards rice fields drowned
 
by rain that stops, then begins again, the sky
unclenching like a fist. You look like her, they
 
tell me. This land is yours, Father says. The girl
fades into a thatched hut. I want her gone.
 
viii.
 
My son is far away in a land
where rice is poured from a box

I touch this girl’s thin shoulder,
walk away. I cannot look at her,

though I have named her. I sit
inside, rock forward on my prayer

mat, thumbing through beads: my bones
have shrunk. I am small as the corpse

of the child I could not make live
this long
drought without rain a reminder of the light

cursing each milky-eyed child
I must name and name and name.
 
 

The Bride
 
 
I am a pinch of red
clay, something
to which a bright
 
and transparent
feeling could graft.
He stands beside
 
me, and I do not think
of what I am
promising him: companion
 
corpse, hands
like scaffolds, empty.
I think instead
 
of the chokecherry tree
in the yard
of the old house, where
 
winter was always
a wet, low field—Mother
would grind anise
 
seed into gold dust, Father
would mend wide
fishing nets, days the lawn
 
smelled like crushed
leaf and shadow. The sky
is a braid of hair
 
twisting above us. He takes
my hand. How
quickly the sky runs
 
across our wing-like skin.
 
 
 
Postcards to the Other Brown Girl in My Weightlifting Class
 
 
Let's say the word
saffron out loud, say
sari—do you see me
as a slut, or a good girl?
I do not want to ask,
where are you from—
your friend beside you
is tan, freckled, pearls
at her ears, a silver
cross at her throat.
 
*
 
Does your mother show
you pictures of eligible
bachelors from Jaipur,
Mumbai, Canada? Does
your kitchen house unused
monuments of your mother's
immigrant heart: packets
of mixed spices, canisters
of rice, discarded coconuts?
 
*
 
If I must be the hand
pressed against the window,
let there be saltwater waiting
below, docked ships for
sidewalks. Let wounds be
wounds, let the water we
sip from nozzled bottles be
gods and goddesses crashing through
each other: Vishnu, Shiva, Allah.
 
*
 
I want to be each mirror lining
the walls, to find you beside me,
meeting my eyes—I do not want
to give myself—I want to be stem,
stamen, petal, not blossom, not bloom—