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If they come for us : poems
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For Peshawar december 16, 2014 Before attacking schools in Pakistan, the Taliban sends kafan, a white cloth that marks Muslim burials, as a form of psychological terror. From the moment our babies are born are we meant to lower them into the ground? To dress them in white? They send flowers before guns, thorns plucked from stem. Every year I manage to live on this earth I collect more questions than answers. In my dreams, the children are still alive at school. In my dreams they still play. I wish them a mundane life. Arguments with parents. Groundings. Chasing a budding love around the playground. Iced mango slices in the hot summer. Lassi dripping from lips. Fear of being unmarried. Hatred of the family next door. Kheer at graduation. Fingers licked with mehndi. Blisters on the back of a heel. Loneliness in a bookstore. Gold chapals. Red kurtas. Walking home, sun at their backs. Searching the street for a missing glove. Nothing glorious. A life. Alive. I promise. I didn't know I needed to worry about them until they were gone. My uncle gifts me his earliest memory: a parking lot full of corpses. No kafan to hide their eyes no white to return them to the ground. In all our family histories, one wrong turn & then, death. Violence not an over there but a memory lurking in our blood, waiting to rise. We know this from our nests--­ the bad men wanting to end us. Every year we call them something new: British. Sikhs. Hindus. Indians. Americans. Terrorists. The dirge, our hearts, pounds vicious, as we prepare the white linen, ready to wrap our bodies. Partition you're kashmiri until they burn your home. take your orchards. stake a different flag. until no one remembers the road that brings you back. you're indian until they draw a border through punjab. until the british captains spit paki as they sip your chai, add so much foam you can't taste home. you're seraiki until your mouth fills with english. you're pakistani until your classmates ask what that is. then you're indian again. or some kind of spanish. you speak a language until you don't. until you only recognize it between your auntie's lips. your father was fluent in four languages. you're illiterate in the tongues of your father. your grandfather wrote persian poetry on glasses. maybe. you can't remember. you made it up. someone lied. you're a daughter until they bury your mother. until you're not invited to your father's funeral. you're a virgin until you get too drunk. you're muslim until you're not a virgin. you're pakistani until they start throwing acid. you're muslim until it's too dangerous. you're safe until you're alone. you're american until the towers fall. until there's a border on your back. Kal Allah, you gave us a language where yesterday & tomorrow are the same word. Kal. A spell cast with the entire mouth. Back of the throat to teeth. Tomorrow means I might have her forever. Yesterday means I say goodbye, again. Kal means they are the same. 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. If yesterday & tomorrow are the same pluck the flower of my mother's body from the soil. Kal means I'm in the crib, eyelashes wet as she looks over me. Kal means I'm on the bed, crawling away from her, my father back from work. Kal means she's dancing at my wedding not-­yet come. Kal means she's oiling my hair before the first day of school. Kal means I wake to her strange voice in the kitchen. Kal means she's holding my unborn baby in her arms, helping me pick a name. Excerpted from If They Come for Us: Poems by Fatimah Asghar All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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  New York Times Review

Asghar lost her parents young; with family roots in Pakistan and in divided Kashmir, she grew up in the United States, a queer Muslim teenager and an orphan in the confusing, unfair months and years after 9/11. From that experience she has made a book that deserves broad attention. "If They Come for Us" encompasses clear, compact free verse, ghazals (a kind of couplet with South Asian roots), a crown of sonnets and poems that imitate Mad Libs, glossaries, floor plans and crosswords, all set against the kinds of frustration and injustice, existential and political, that Asghar has seen or known. "All the world's earth is my momma's grave," she declares. "There's a border on my back." Bits of Urdu ("ghareeb," "khaala," "khalu"), along with facts of South Asian history, signal Asghar's multiple belongings and her bicultural strivings, both to stand out and to belong: "hand-sewn kupre each Eid, velvet scrunchies to match," "boygirl / feet pounding the ground." Some pages seem designed to inspire teenagers (by no means a weakness); others, like Asghar's wonderfully mordant "Microaggression Bingo," suggest the inventions of Terrance Hayes. A standout sequence links the oil and blood of the wars in Iraq to family ties ("blood"), to menstruation and bad skin, as international conflict and American prejudice inform what would otherwise just come off as teenage angst: "All the people I could be are dangerous. / The blood clotting, oil in my veins."

  Publishers Weekly Review

In this awe-inspiring debut, Asghar, writer of the Emmy-nominated web series "Brown Girls," explores the painful, sometimes psychologically debilitating journey of establishing her identity as a queer brown woman within the confines of white America. For Asghar, home is to be found in a people's collective memory, and throughout she looks at otherness through the lens of generational trauma. The collection's opening images reflect legacies of destruction and death. In "For Peshawar," Asghar writes, "My uncle gifts me his earliest memory:/ a parking lot full of corpses." Her background in the cinematic arts shows in the form of such poems as "How We Left: Film Treatment." There, while grappling with an identity formed by personal and cultural divisions, the speaker confesses, "I love a man who saved my family by stealing our home./ I want a land that doesn't want me." Gendered violence also undergoes scrutiny, with Asghar's speaker asking, "what do I do with the boy/ who snuck his way inside/ me on my childhood playground?" Honest, personal, and intimate without being insular or myopic, Asghar's collection reveals a sense of strength and hope found in identity and cultural history: "our names this country's wood/ for the fire my people my people/ the long years we've survived the long/ years yet to come." (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A debut poetry collection showcasing both a fierce and tender new voice."-- Booklist <br> "Elegant and playful . . . The poet invents new forms and updates classic ones."-- Elle <br> "[Fatimah] Asghar interrogates divisions along lines of nationality, age, and gender, illuminating the forces by which identity is fixed or flexible."-- The New Yorker <br> <br> NAMED ONE OF THE TOP TEN BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY <br> <br> an aunt teaches me how to tell <br> an edible flower <br> from a poisonous one. <br> just in case, I hear her say, just in case. <br> <br> From a co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls comes an imaginative, soulful debut poetry that collection captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America. Orphaned as a child, Fatimah Asghar grapples with coming of age and navigating questions of sexuality and race without the guidance of a mother or father. These poems at once bear anguish, joy, vulnerability, and compassion, while also exploring the many facets of violence: how it persists within us, how it is inherited across generations, and how it manifests itself in our relationships. In experimental forms and language both lyrical and raw, Asghar seamlessly braids together marginalized people's histories with her own understanding of identity, place, and belonging.<br> <br> Praise for If They Come for Us <br> <br> "In forms both traditional . . . and unorthodox . . . Asghar interrogates divisions along lines of nationality, age, and gender, illuminating the forces by which identity is fixed or flexible. Most vivid and revelatory are pieces such as 'Boy,' whose perspicacious turns and irreverent idiom conjure the rich, jagged textures of a childhood shadowed by loss." -- The New Yorker <br> <br> "This summer, [Asghar's] debut poetry collection cemented her status as one of the city's greatest present-day poets. . . . A stunning work of art that tackles place, race, sexuality and violence. These poems--both personal and historical, both celebratory and aggrieved--are unquestionably powerful in a way that would doubtless make both Gwendolyn Brooks and Harriet Monroe proud." -- Chicago Review of Books <br> <br> "Taut lines, vivid language, and searing images range cover to cover. . . . Inventive, sad, gripping, and beautiful." -- Library Journal (starred review)
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