YOUR OWN COUNTRY
The handles attached to the velvet pouch they passed around that week in chapel were smooth- worn. I wanted to put my hand in. It looked soft. That soft. Noonlight filtered through Jesus, blue- robed. The flames of lit candles unmoving. Beside me the blond girl who had told another blond girl not to touch my hair. You'll get whatever she has. Mother, after she picked me up from school, screaming: How could you give them $60? My hand had reached into her purse that morning while she slept. It looked easy. That easy. How could you. So many poor people in our country. While I waited for the bus, I had folded those hand-softened bills in the funnel of pre-dawn skylight. Ten years later, two tall towers staggering into the ground. Smoke and ash the only light. Ten days later, boys in a pickup truck threw firecrackers onto the tennis court where I swung my arm in hard, thin arcs. Go back to your own country! one of them screamed, red hair glossy in sunlight, disappearing behind the sliding-up window. The pouch passed from hand to hand until I was the one gripping the dark wooden handle. I reached in, released the bills into all that rough lining, passed it to the girl beside me, her blond hair red in stained- glass light. The one who had wanted to touch my hair. It must have looked soft to her. That soft. Blacker still, in Jesus-stained light. Mother gray in fluorescent light, shaking chopped onions and garlic into the sweating pot. The kitchen smoky, those spices simmering crimson. The skylight pouring down all that white onto me. All that money, wasted. Do you want to be like them, American? Is that it? Go then. Go. Go. Yes. Back to all that softness.
LIST AT R’S REQUEST
1. in dreams you appear, a branch or an antler.
2. once we sat on a hotel room floor, inches apart.
3. there was an ashtray nearby.
4. the ashtray’s not important, but the gray night dusted on our fingertips.
5. I thought I heard you last night, but it was my own rustling.
6. I had to keep my eyes closed, I had to keep my eyes closed.
7. somewhere in Texas you are, for a moment, unaware.
8. leaving all of it behind.
9. petals of flowers I still haven’t swept up.
10. it’s not a metaphor for life, just murky water in a vase.
11. I sat behind you in a bar, I felt tender about the nape of your neck.
12. there was time before, and now there isn’t.
13. you said to me darkling, you said to me lambent.
14. but the sky was lightless.
15. the skin there, softer.
16. I never expected my own thinness.
17. the seams of myself, trembling.
18. I make myself wring out the ghosts.
19. I make myself hang them to dry.
TARFIA FAIZULLAH’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, Blackbird, The Massachusetts Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Kenyon Writers’ Workshop, and other honors. Her manuscript Seam was a finalist for the Alice James Beatrice Hawley Award and the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.