mY eMoTiOnS // or a review of if they come for us by fatimah asghar

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Rating: 4.5 |  ★★★★

Release Date: February 19th, 2019

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Genre: Poetry, Feminism, Non-fiction

Page Count: 128 pages

Dates Read: March 5th – 6th, 2019

Synopsis: Poet and co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series “Brown Girls” captures the experience of being a Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America, while exploring identity, violence, and healing.

In this powerful and imaginative debut poetry collection, Fatimah Asghar nakedly captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America by braiding together personal and marginalized people’s histories. After being orphaned as a young girl, Asghar grapples with coming-of-age as a woman without the guidance of a mother, questions of sexuality and race, and navigating a world that put a target on her back. Asghar’s poems at once bear anguish, joy, vulnerability, and compassion, while exploring the many facets of violence: how it persists within us, how it is inherited across generations, and how it manifests in our relationships with friends and family, and in our own understanding of identity. Using experimental forms and a mix of lyrical and brash language, Asghar confronts her own understanding of identity and place and belonging. (GR)

I appreciate poetry. I don’t read a lot of it, but as long as I don’t have to overanalyze it I have a deep appreciation for the art. So, in that respect I am not here to critique or review the construction of the poetry, I am simply here to share some of my favourite poems from this collection and talk about the impact of this collection on me.

 

But first, the cover!!!

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This cover is honestly one of the most stunning covers I have been blessed to see recently. I love the vast representation of what South Asian woman can look like, though by no means is it a complete representation. But like the cover makes me so happy. Shyama Golden is doing the good work. And Fatimah Asghar is seriously blessed by the cover gods.

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This collection covers a lot in under 130 pages. From religion (Asghar is Muslim) to xenophobia, female sexuality, colonialism, being queer, genocide, violence, racism, rape, microaggressions, sexual assault, domestic abuse, language, identity, colorism, culture, and loss of culture. It’s raw, very authentic, full of soul, heart and even some pain. It’s beautiful, and I think would open anyone’s eyes to topics that aren’t often talked about because of there taboo nature. Her experiences growing up as a Brown girl are interspersed with poems centering around Partition. Asghar writes what is personal and what is political, but there is something everyone can hook on to.

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❝At least 14 million people were forced into migration as they fled the ethnic cleansings and retribution genocides that consumed South Asia during the India/Pakistan Partition, which led to India’s and East and West Pakistan’s Independence from Colonial Britain. An estimated 1 to 2 million people died during the months encompassing Partition. An estimated 75,000 to 100,000 women were abducted and raped. Partition remains one of the largest forced migrations in human history; its effects and divisions echo to this day.

❝you’re kashmiri until they burn your home. take your orchards. stake a different flag. until no one remembers the road that brings you back. you’re indian until they draw a border through punjab. until the british captains spit paki as they sip your chai, add so much foam you can’t taste home. you’re seraiki until your mouth fills with english. you’re pakistani until your classmates ask what that is. then you’re indian again. or some kind of spanish. you speak a language until you don’t. until you only recognize it between your auntie’s lips. your father was fluent in four languages. you’re illiterate in the tongues of your father.  your grandfather wrote persian poetry on glasses. maybe. you can’t remember. you made it up. someone lied. you’re a daughter until they bury your mother. until you’re not invited to your father’s funeral.  you’re a virgin until you get too drunk. you’re muslim until you’re not a virgin. you’re pakistani until they start throwing acid. you’re muslim until it’s too dangerous. you’re safe until you’re alone. you’re american until the towers fall. until there’s a border on your back.❞  

❝For Peshawar: From the moment our babies are born are we meant to lower them into the ground? To dress them in white? They send flowers before guns, thorns plucked from stem. Every year I manage to live on this earth I collect more questions than answers.

❝I never had enough kens so I made my barbies fuck each other or fuck beanie babies. I never had more than one beanie baby per species. they were rare that way & like some perverted Noah’s ark kept from multiplying. No one with skin colored like theirs, freaks like me. Lucky the babies needed their bodies. I controlled in my playroom. Whole cities of beautiful women, boundless tits, fucking, sacks of animals. Plastic legs thrusting until the beanie said yes balls of beans spilling to the floor. The ladies fucked their corpses until Auntie A made me throw them out. Legions of identical white women, skin glowing like pearl milk, magnificent as they stormed the gates of the zoo conquered each animal one limb at a time.

❝Kal: Allah, you gave us a language where yesterday & tomorrow are the same word. Kal. A spell cast with the entire mouth. Back of the throat to teeth. Tomorrow means I might her forever. Yesterday means I say goodbye, again. Kal means they are the same. I know you can bend time. I am merely asking for what is mine. Give me my mother for no other reason than I deserved her. If yesterday & tomorrow are the same. Pluck the flower of my mother’s body from the soil. Kal means I’m in the crib, eyelashes wet as she looks over me. Kal means I’m on the bed, crawling away from her, my father back from work. Kal means she’s dancing at my wedding not-yet come. Kal means she’s oiling my hair before the first day of school. Kal means I wake to her strange voice in the kitchen. Kal means she’s holding my unborn baby in her arms, helping me pick a name.

❝100 Words on 45’s 100 Days: his name means to win; he drops bombs flattening children to prove he can. my friends write “not my president” online. I the farthest from home I’ve been in a long time. I write “I pledge no allegiance” but children stay dead, buried by cement in syria, or a cop’s bullet in america & he goes on golfing, vacationing, his belt swelling past buckle while swarms of children never grow up. he’s not my president but I live in a country whose sun is war we keep rotating around its warmth our faces, sun-kissed, each & every morning.

❝They Asked for a Map: ‘Nobody in India will love.’ – Cyril Radcliffe, who made the borders of Partition in less than 40 days without ever previously visiting South Asia. & so I drew them a line. what does it mean, to partition earth? to cut the oceans? all the fish wear flags on their fins. the flies pledge allegiance to which bodies, rotting in the streets, are theirs to nibble. snowcocks nest on the trees of their union & name themselves Indian. fisherman cast lines across a liquid border & become spies, bugging the other sides fauna, dragging mackerel to daylight. kafilas clash, territorial, murderers, in the no man’s land. they asked for a map & so I drew a line down the army, down the police down the guns & bayonets. cousins partitioned from cousins, mothers partitioned from child, neighbors spearing neighbors, women, virgins, jumping into weels so full with people they can’t find water to drown.

❝Halal: the uber I step into is halal. at least the driver tells me so. he says, this window is halal this door is halal, this for & we both laugh, the prayer hung in the rearview a minaret that calls my knees, the closest to masjid I have been in years. tonight this ride is the umma I choose, the driver’s hoot a dervish that whirls my smile. he says: I am 1% halal, 99% shaitan at my devil is honest. khuda ka shukr, at least my devil is honest: my skirt a little too short, my collarbones, ridges for lovers’ fingers to find flight. I never dress right for any weather, my arms a gathering of bumps all my aunties’ shame ice the blood below my inked veins. my knees wobble on the edge of what I should be & what I am. at the end of my sight I dream a world brimming with my contradictions. when I turn to look it disappears. my devil quiet the days I wrap my hair in a bouquet. but tonight, mashallah, we are safe from his gaze in this rushed chariot. I lace the backseat with my haram. I trace an altar in my god’s name.

❝National Geographic: I see my not-me on the news. She who weds for her sweet sixteen. mosquito bites for breasts. My not-khaala’s trace her hands with mehndi, a plate of mathai bursting at her feet. My not-khalu’s dance, pound palm to drum, stave off monsoons. My not-abbu checks the sheets for her blood the morning after, bradishes the satin like a flag his pride, singing through the town. There’s my not-me again, the one I could’ve been, drowned in a burka on her way to the market, fingering the mangos through gloves, nihari steaming for hours at the flags shared with my not-husbands family. My not-me’s eyes, brillant & green decorating the pages of western magazines. Eyes that earn a white man awards & showings, but eyes that stay niqaabed in the mountains, while not-me rims her son’s mouth with salt to trck his belly into not-hunger, My not-me celebrating Diwali, lights gathered at the base of her door. My not-me Indian, worshipping a host of different gods, calling all their names my not-tongue not foreign, not accented not strange. My not-me not worried about Talibam, but still worried about men. My not-me on the bus divided among the passenger’s hands abdomen gutted, left on a road to die. Still. Not-me. Alone. & not me.

❝Partition: 1945: my grandfather steps off a train in Jammu & Kashmir, Drinks pani from the Muslim fountain. my grandfather teaches all the children in his village. these are men who won’t touch his hands afraid his Muslim blood dirty. when he passes they blend & pet the stray dogs instead. 1947: a Muslim man sips whiskey & creates a country. Jinnah’s photo framed & hung on the doors of his believers. freedom spat between every paan stained mouth as the colonizers leave & the date palm trees dance in Ramzan’s winds.  1947: in fall the birds fly south for safety to hide from the cold. 1947: in fall my family flocks south to Pakistan for safety to hide from their neighbors. 1945: the allies open the camps in Germany & the photos roll into America. the westerners end their war & declare: never again. 1947: a man sees a girl crying as she begs for water he stares for while & then lights her on fire. 1946: a woman registers to bote & then registers her grandmother, long dead. she casts a ballot for India to stay united changes into her grandmother’s sari & casts the vote, again. 1947: the cannons sound during Ramzan & everyone holds their breath to find who survived. Laylat al-Qadr births two new nations one one knows the boundaries. bodies spoon like commas, waiting, linking, waiting, linking. 2015: a Lahori naan seller wakes to his old nightmares— hacking a Sikh family to death. he falls to his knees & pleads Allah, forgive me. please forgive me. 1947: a woman washes the body of a stranger lying on the street. every dead woman blurs into another. maybe she could be my sister she says as she performs the ghusl, as her own sister never returns home. 1943: famine spreads through the British Raj. in Bengal three million die bones of skin, arms sharp as machetes. 1947: summer, in a Bihari marketplace there’s nothing but sag & edible flowers. lines of people crowd the center. their hands: empty. 1993: summer, in New York City I am four, sitting in a patch of grass by Pathmark. an aunt teaches me how to tell an edible flower from a poisonous one. just in case, I hear her say, just in case. 1947: a man attacks Jinnah on the street. another man spits on Nehru. my family died for your dream they say. bring me back my family. bring me back my family. 1947: in Jammu the railway staff hose blood off the platform. it has been an unusual rain this year they say, the bloodwater spraying onto the grass, the stray dogs lay about, bloated with flesh. it has been an unusual rain this year, says a Mulism general, machete in his hand, his troops surrounding a sleeping Hindu village, as the sky above Rawalpindi wakes.

❝these are my people & I find
them on the street & shadow
through any wild all wild
my people my people
a dance of strangers in my blood
the old woman’s sari dissolving to wind
bindi a new moon on her forehead
I claim her my kin & sew
the star of her to my breast
the toddler dangling from stroller
hair a fountain of dandelion seed
at the bakery I claim them too
the sikh uncle at the airport
who apologizes for the pat
down the muslim man who abandons
his car at the traffic light drops
to his knees at the call of the azan
& the muslim man who sips
good whiskey at the start of maghrib
the lone khala at the park
pairing her kurta with crocs
my people my people I can’t be lost
when I see you my compass
is brown & gold & blood
my compass a muslim teenager
snapback & high-tops gracing
the subway platform
mashallah I claim them all
my country is made
in my people’s image
if they come for you they
come for me too in the dead
of winter a flock of
aunties step out on the sand
their dupattas turn to ocean
a colony of uncles grind their palms
& a thousand jasmines bell the air
my people I follow you like constellations
we hear the glass smashing the street
& the nights opening their dark
our names this country’s wood
for the fire my people my people
the long years we’ve survived the long
years yet to come I see you map
my sky the light your lantern long
ahead & I follow I follow.

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If you are interested in reading this, I would recommend it. It’s sometimes hard to read, but it’s worth it because there is a lot of important discussions included within its pages. It’s a quick read, and the poems are well crafted and powerful. I will 100% be reading more from Fatimah Asghar.

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I can’t wait to see what she puts forth in the future. I am pretty hyped for Halal if you can hear me. Also, I am 100% gonna check out Brown Girls.

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On a side note: School has really been kicking my ass so that accounts for my lack of blogging activity. There are only about nine days left of actual school and I am so hyped to be free and to be able to blog like a regular person. But until then you’ll have live with my limited new content. Honestly, I am also in a bit of reading slump too which never help things. But I will be catching up on reviews and other things soon. I promise. Thank you for your support. Senior year is crazy. I promise it won’t be a month and half or so until my next review is up.

Petyr Baeish Books  © 2019 by Tova Portmann-Bown

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