Regarding Loving a Girl
Olivia and I settle by the oak tree, palms brushing
its dark trunk, our bodies twined
like rosaries, these small and holy things.
The leaves shudder softly under
the wind’s touch, and I trace the neat folds
of her blue seersucker dress, the sweet skin
gathering at her knuckles. I wonder
how many days have passed
like this: two girls swallow-quiet
under the branches that reach and reach,
as if longing. My mother reminds me how,
in our language, there is no word for longing.
We just haven't learned the word for longing,
I rush to revise, because I want to believe
our language is whole, to believe
there are enough Tamil words
for everything, enough words for Olivia
and how much I want to touch her.
But to think the women in my family have
never passed down desire, only the tight press
of their lips, only the way to tuck their hands
behind their backs when the men come
home. To think they had no use for a word for
longing because it would not fit
in their bodies. Because they grew up
clutching the Quran, five daily prayers
slicking their mouths like salt.
Because they read their jathagams closely,
listening to the man who mapped
the stars that blemished their bellies.
How he built this strange fate,
prophecy translated from sky.
After we pray, my mother shows me
my jathagam.What I would become
knitted in ink, turning each page
dark: soft-spoken daughter,
obedient wife, always afraid.
I do not ask my mother
if there is a Tamil word for a girl
who loves a girl. I know
her answer, I think. This is where I come from,
I say instead, when I tell Olivia the story,
murmuring verses from the Quran,
the two of us stitched in moonlight, my hands
in her blonde hair. Yes, she says, touching my hijab
gently, bringing her lips to mine.
Ode to Muslim Girl
In the mosque, women stir in slow circles. Following
the blue lilt of my mother’s cotton hijab, I move past
these women, their burkas brushing against mine, their bodies
so lovely and gentle, their mouths brimming
with sweet Tamil vowels and knitted songs of worship.
I kneel beside my mother, tucked
in the corner of the room, both of us curling and uncurling
our hands, our prayer rug a field tendriled in seasilk. We are here,
I murmur, skimming my thumb along her jaw,
and by this I mean, We are home. On days like these,
the air heavy as pearls, heavy as daughters,
I keep looking into my mother’s face, so warm
and so dark, and I am overcome with the softness
of her, the way she opens the last verses of the Quran,
moon-clotted and steamed in rosemilk, the way
she cradles my cheek, a small synonym,
the way she murmurs back to me, We are here, the words
settling over me like skin. And I remember this softness, I cling to the memory
of this softness when, after school, I struggle
against the boy in the empty classroom
until he relents, until he moves the hard meat
of his knuckles from my waist, my body so small
and trembling. When he asks where I am going,
the answer is a tender thing blooming
in my mouth, and he responds, Have fun
with all the other terrorists, his chuckle following me
like footsteps filling the damp streets as I trudge
to the mosque, slip into the prayer room, my mother coiling close.
The prayer rug becomes a garden growing
underneath us, a smattering of pink petals
pinned to our bare feet, gentle as touch.
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