“Do What You Will with My Mother’s Shalwar” by Maryam Ghafoor

12 March 2021 on Poetry   Tags:

For every Khawaja

I wear them without a kameez,
not harem pants; these are the real thing.
When I walk my mother’s neighborhood,
all the white people stare, part
their curtains, come out of their houses
asking who I am—my mother’s youngest,
all grown. And yes, I look just like her at my age,
but they never saw her on the North side then.
I walk through corn fields, across the bridge,
beside the forest, the one I dream about:
the hill forever stretching, the shrubs
mowed down so all I see are tall trees,
and I move so quickly through,
as if flying. I see a man who owns all this land,
his house deep in the woods. His cattle, his pasture,
and I move beyond him. I move beyond
the neighbor who says “colored children”
and his wife who says, “We’re not racist;
we have a Haitian grandchild.” I am deeper
now. I can see the creek meeting its parents:
the Vermillion, the Illinois, the Mississippi.
Now I am flying. To my mother’s family.
I find every Khawaja north, south, east,
and west of that river. I find the Khawajas
across greater oceans. I find them dead
in their graves and pull them out
by their white kafans, sheets unraveling,
their bodies as brown as mine, their bodies
darker and more earth-covered and holy,
so soon there is a procession of us walking
from my mother’s house to Pine Hills golf course.
Miles of Khawajas behind my mother and
behind her, me. We circle the fields,
we circle the forest and the river and this
whole damn country. We circle it until
we no longer feel the invisible white hand
on our mother countries, on our bodies.
We use our own hands to raise
each black and brown khawaja sira
each brother each sister in hijabs
in mini skirts in turbans in shaved heads
we call them from their houses,
from under our feet, and they come,
they come, they come.


Photo by Bailey Brown

Maryam Ghafoor is from Illinois. Her poems are forthcoming from American Poetry Review. Her Master's Thesis "Going Body First" won the Distinguished Master's Creative Work Award from Purdue University in 2017. Her poem "Bitter Sea" was a runner-up for the Academy of American Poets College Prize in 2016. She currently works as an English Lecturer at Purdue.

Bailey Brown is a photographer covering everything from landscape to professional headshots to events such as fashion shows and concerts. She is practiced in film photography as well as digital. She holds a BA in English Literature and is currently traveling overseas seeking new cultural contexts on the other side of the lens. You can see more of her work on her Instagram.

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