SARAH FATHIMA MOHAMMED
Sarah Fathima Mohammed is a brown, Muslim-American writer from
the San Francisco Bay Area (USA). Her work appears or is forthcoming
in Frontier Poetry, wildness, DIALOGIST, diode, and elsewhere. She has
been recognized by the Poetry Society of the UK, Claudia Ann Seaman
Awards, and Hollins University, among others.
Ode to Muslim Girl
In the mosque, women stir
in slow circles. I follow as I've learned
to follow—seeking the blue lilt
of my mother's cotton hijab, kneeling
beside her, our prayer rug a small field
tendriled in seasilk. In this country, men praise us
for our silence. Men praise us
for holding nothing
but worship, its humble machinery.
I don't know how to pray
with the dailiness of blooming,
to recite as the Arabic swathes
my throat, but my mother
says belief is enough. Yes, we must settle
for what we have been given:
we must marry
a man before touching him.
When my mother turned sixteen,
she learned my father's name,
a wedding band
veining her finger. For years,
her skin has swelled
over the gold, a flash of sound,
a small yearning. My hands:
no metal yet, no hardness,
just skin over skin. My mother opens
the last verses: that one
moon-clotted, this one heavy
as pith. I cannot translate them,
only repeat, words muffled as if found
hushed inside a bottle cap.
We must take what language we can.
Homecoming with Sister
For Kumbakonam, India
How long we held each other, how deeply
we learned our bodies when Mother brought us
back to the village. We walked barefoot,
young and studded with our first hijabs, hot rain
trickling down our backs, mixing with sweat.
All this time we knew only about asking
for permission, about the California girls we envied,
sun-swept and blonde, about our makeshift mosque
in the auditorium of the community college
where our people huddled for jummah,
turning off the lights, closing the blinds
of all the windows. Along the unpaved roads,
Mother taught us the word for here, inga. We found it
delightful, the click of tongue these vowels
requested from us, and we chanted inga, inga,
inga the whole long way, touching the bark
of street signs, dark, low hanging.
A language we couldn't read,
the vowels painted more thickly, so much softer
than we knew. And before Mother could guide us,
we stopped at the village entrance, both of us
full with some new knowledge, this place
we had never been to but that opened for us.
Inga, brimming with women
and salt. No homes, only home, one broad circle
lined with thatched, open doors, a dark river
in the middle, next to which we moved to lay down,
the whole village kneeling to touch,
to hold our small wide-eyed selves.
Spit & a white man's bruised fist
shackles my mother's jaw shut. She tries to swallow
the spit, slowly, like something to be treasured even after
it rusts. My mother, who taught me how to worship
water before she taught me to speak—filling a bucket
the size of a belly from our whining faucet in the dark.
With a silver spoon, she coaxes the water into my mouth.
This bucket lasted us a whole month. & every night
my mother, folding her hands into the bucket, brushing
a knuckle across a collarbone, wringing her fingers
afterwards to save the water. I anointed myself like this,
too: fatherless, a lick of water. Listen. On the nights
the white man chokes my mother, her black
burka swells, a wave. The time it would have taken
for my mother to die under the man & the time it takes
for her to drink water from her hands are the same.
the clementine blooms in your backyard, gentle as a child's curtsy. every evening we walk down dark streets, moving to greet its growing. we settle on soil & our hands knit together, a pair of cotton wings. i watch oily green buds, the way each leaf touches the small & swollen fruit. the way foliage curls where the rind is new & swelling & white. i think that this is what care means, perhaps sisterhood: a holding close, a movement heavy as lace. i turn to you, & you are already looking at me, so softly. when the clementine falls from its stem into my hand, i reach for your face. we are laughing & clumsy. before we sleep you tell me a story where we tilt the cuffs of our cotton sweatshirts & spill rosewater inside. look at veins growing along our wrists, warm & sweet.
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