Two Poems

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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