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The Crescent and the Moon and More
*Editor's Note: Previously published at The Fem, America is Not the World anthology by Pankhearst, Rising Phoenix Review, Stirred Poetry: FOREST issue.
The Crescent and the Moon
1. Pakistan, you clean-cut
emerald, sweltering against Arabian blue:
flags on foreign lands make us happier
than standing and staring, knee-deep in wheat harvest.
Your vastness is our biggest insecurity;
we cannot unlearn how to become smaller--
when written, ‘woman’ takes longer to pronounce:
where can we find your patience to exist,
to find a map that will take us in as more
than a domestic paper town?
Pakistan, Kashmir is still crying; if you beat bones together,
you would hear the subtlety of their breathing. You bleed
like my own womb—like you are in need of my care,
as if I chose to let loose when you fail--
as if the border’s bite does not warrant a bark as deliberate.
Why must I stay contrite, yet house more green pride
than my woman is allowed to contain? Pakistan, you sharp-edged
pen, share your secret: show me how to take up my space.
2. Pakistan; you ghost bruise, aging sun against strangled skin:your colors shine brightest
Your green is a cape, clad on every citizen--
your white, a ray too bright for us to take in as our own,
your crescent, a namesake for my own bird;
your star is one I am still making leg room for.
I see it all, wound. Your soil taught us never to crack,
withstanding every drought your rigged affection
has kept for your boys’ higher heads.
You blackened hypocrite in search of every new moon,
how you howl for your mothers, disguised
as easy nocturnal targets. You hide from our blood,
don't you, my land?
I see how your sight brims red with cold rage
when our moons are on time,
when our legs spread, toes curl for sobbing life,
when our bodies cannot bear to break skin
once your resolve does.
3. Pakistan, my own ghost-bruise: I see how my body offends you, even after
it only learned to curve around the subtle
circumference of your finger. I see it all,
my arid land, I have memorized your monsoons
in hopes the rain will remember I am still part man.
I see my woman crumbling to smaller,
asking for more beating so one day,
your men's thumbs are enough for her lungs
to forget expanding;
I see my bones breathing through gritted teeth,
rib-cage perspiring with the hunger to hush
while men walk,
her eyes hot-bent in modesty.
4. Ghost bruise,
I don't know how you broke my skin orange in your westward sigh
but my skin will learn to glow around your gaping wound--
crushing your privilege to debris—while my woman shows so proud
it dizzies your anchors to flight;
I see you, escaping the clutches of my forested legs--
here is to hoping the view
grants you a better look
on my aching,
New Names for Brown Baby Girls
—bark of the old gum tree
--palm creases wise with war
--first breath after three funerals
--war-drum in the distance
--allowed to cry above the burial ground
--reborn with the moon
--sworn ode to heaven
--rustle of dusk close to the sun
--juvenile pinky trying a vibrato on her first violin
--never the burden, never unloved
--peak of the Lord's one-part-mercy
--last sob overcome, when you pray
--your only redemption
--bulbul, always ready to sing
--heart the size of a loosening fist
--unrippled surface of a mountain lake
My knuckles have more potholes than the drive
to the graveyard; I know because I looked the other way
when my parents drove me home.
Until it makes my belly balloon into
a separate center of gravity--I wonder
how many potholes you'd avoid until you lost my sleep
I still feel phantom comfort on my fingertips
when I wanted nothing more than the feel
of your scruff in places I wasn't ready to explore
that day. I still feel the blue scent of want
crawling into one ear, imprinted in my cortex.
I want to say you ruined so many songs I cannot
go back to, but you excavated me from your routine;
my vines bore so deep, it hurt less to accept them as roots.
This is how death perplexed me: I could not accept
that bodies learn to give when they can no longer
breathe, so the roots they give nameless seeds to
can grow from where they stopped. I never learned
to take change as a binding force of the universe,
I could never take it as a binding force for us
so while I stare at the contours of my knuckles,
I can feel you play Mercy on their spines,
whispering hot truths about drumsticks conditioning
the bone underneath,
nesting a deeper acceptance for the gaping
apology I could never quite say.
I can see graves eye to eye now; your roots
have taught me this much.
It was saved for the weekend,
at the drugged crack of dawn I was carried
with my blanket into the backseat.
Our silver Santro, unfit for the dirtroad;
my exhaustion, a persistent friend.
There were boulevards stretched town
after smaller town, the aroma
of high cholesterol and breakfast
followed me until I made a pick.
I never registered the creak of the charpoy
underneath me biting oil-cum-eggs
with sizzling parathay and the forgiven
last slurp of chai.
I was awake when her half-tooth winked
after passing the cattle swimming pool,
the deplorable graveyard of grandfathers
I couldn’t remember,
the barely concrete streets
until her rusted blue door was unbarred.
Chakwaal was the smell of my phuppo's shawl with firewood-ash
from the qeema-meant-to-be-a-surprise;
it was Sunday afternoon that stretched from dawn to dusk,
where my sister let me teach her how to ride a tricycle.
Chakwaal is where my cousin tried to let me win cricket matches,
after I missed every single shot.
It was the hamaam I could never pronounce,
the only chai I registered.
Chakwaal was where the sun was always yellower
and the crescent-window that knew the curves of my spine
arched before the veranda.
Chakwaal was the dare I took in high school
to take Urdu literature
and the shame at failing to learn Punjabi
from our daily helpers; Chakwaal was understanding silently
and having my phuppo wink between bites at the clumsy oil stains
my mother never found.
Chakwaal was home before home had a name--
the smell of love poured into firewood-ash.
My father kissed me in the womb right
where my palm meets my left pinky.
My July-cousin and I fell on the same patch of heaven's grass
on the same leg and branded ourselves
with the same cylindrical melanin-scar.
I have five dimples and two raindrops
making quiet room on my smiling upper lip--
the only birthmark my canvas of a body hasn't housed
yet, are the words my grandfather found
when his wife needed to see heavens' gates
for the second time.
I don't say it for the sake of poetry
but when she was gone, he cried so much
his eyes clogged with cataracts;
his body exhumed the fact that her cold bedside
was a part of the family now.
I have written nothing about the time he left me,
how writing was a pipe dream rusting under the breaths
of his wife and four children
until his depression clenched his chest
so hard his mind begged for air.
He forgot his wife and four children for seven days.
Writing brought them back; he could not bear
to lose them in his head yet.
Years that followed turned his bedroom into an office.
His plastic table stacked with photographs,
handwritten pages until leather-bound.
I remember his frail hands clasping
a pairs of yellow scissors, eyes scrunched in absolute focus
with a keenness closest to an empty bedside.
He taught me what real loss looks like,
what fear would sound like if it opened
its doors to love banging for dear life.
He gave me my heart, my words.
See, if I sit still for too long,
I confuse my pulse for earthquakes;
this is the birthmark my grandfather gave me.
When I rubbed his cold feet
as he let his last breath go, he left:
his love for ghazals in my throat
his thirst for strangers' stories in my ears
his beating heart, echoing still in the corridors
of my body.
Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night,
my knees shake, toes twitch. It takes a while
for me to realize: it isn't another earthquake.
The Gum-Tree Womb
She says her gum-tree hands are not young anymore
and I want to tie their barks
together when she prostrates
to show her, our God has just loved
I want to show her how humans scarred
mine because I didn't keep signs up:
BEWARE, THIS FOREST IS BREATHING.
Just the sight of her warrants a search
for air; her own earth-scent is charged
without need for turbulence. You'll know
from the sound of her trees growing as loud
as she is quiet. Our chorus is unmistakable
pride because she swept her:
unwalked floor for deceit,
twigs for thorns,
leaves for too much safety--
veins beaten silver in her own image.
You cannot pinpoint her oroboros;
her reflection is three shoots
aiming through a canopy of green
for so much more than just the moon.
She doesn't ask us to look for God
anywhere outside the radius of home;
the gum tree is a gnarled temple
we happened to
every leap year after the end.