On Fatimah Asghar’s If They Come for Us

A Kinfolk Reflection

I have been reading Fatimah Asghar’s If They Come for Us in honor of AAPI Heritage Month.

She has pulled threads from my memory to my brow like the saffron I purchased to be rubbed on my middle daughter’s forehead. Bilquisu. Named for the Queen of Sheba who, being woman and jinn, saw fit to speak freely and let the hair on her legs grow thick and wild. This woman is my people.

If They Come for Us is a map of stains like the one placed on my child’s forehead. Stains that marked the separation of child and womb. Stains reminiscent of all the bloodshed that brought her forth into the world both mine and legions of women before me. Stains of genocide and orphan cries in the wake of things people find immeasurable and unbelievable. Stains of partition. In this case, Asghar has set us against the backdrop of the partition in South Asia that delineated nations I know as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Asghar’s book reminded me that there is so little I can say I truly know. Nationhood is an invention. Community is sometimes chosen, sometimes thrust upon us. And the identities we bring with us to other places are rooted in so much varied soil. She has us cross a border of some sort in each poem. Asghar brings us head-to-head with displacement over and over again. I drank the first border in Kal where the weight of being a woman without a mother shifted itself around my neck and made me aware again of the two sides of life I have been on – with my mother and without her living. Asghar raises a prayer in this poem “I know you can bend time./ I am merely asking for what/ is mine. Give me my mother for no/ other reason than I deserve her.” That one was a tough swallow but I got it down. Then I began to feel these poems passing my heart. One by one they pulsed by in a blood rhythm that I knew to be pure survival.

Asghar’s writing is viscerous hitting at my center in waves like a boat ride. The little Muslimah girl in me horrified that I might fart during prayer or, worse, take off my shoes at the masjid door and have sweaty socks, stood in the window of my heart watching these poems go by. The daughter of a Muslimah who had decided on a different deen of sex positivity and spiritual multilingualism stood behind the little girl mourning the deaths of parents as the aunties in the poems waved to me. And then came the fresh calm windward side poems like funny BINGO sheets and crosswords.

I was taken with Script for Child Services: A Floor Plan where there are words on top of words in the figure of a floor plan eliciting a silenced crowding sensation wherein Asghar wants us to recognize that what people have to present to authorities like Child Protective Services is always more than what is spoken on the surface – always layered on top of a repeating routine of trauma to overcome. The borders in this poem are laid out in both the super and sub texts. In the subtext, Asghar locks us into a repeating navigation across the border of fear. She marks borders again in the overlay floor plan where there are no openings from room to room. Any movement around this space requires a crashing and potential injury. The floor plan is all partitions.

The book settled in my abdomen and decided to stay with me a while when Asghar spun up the “not-me”s pictured in magazines that document the wild and native world. I, too, have not-me’s. They bathe in cholera infested rivers, plead for hurricane or earthquake relief, and clutch their hands to black and blue bullet wounds. My not-me’s also celebrate carnivals and Eids with braids and beads. So lovely. I hope they meet Asghar’s not-me’s on Hajj someday. I hope she and I meet at a dope Appalachian poetry festival sometime in the after-this and after-now under one of those blessings of a starless sky. Mostly I hope she writes on. I am reading. I am holding. I am in the us they may come for – kin.

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