Culture Feature: Tarfia Faizullah – The Feminist Wire

Culture Feature: Tarfia Faizullah

By Tarfia Faizullah


Aubade: Doctor’s Appointment

In the longspun morning I go

to return my body to itself

to open it wide to hands clasped

in prayer inside me Father

you sleep in Texas sleep behind

the steering wheel you sleep we

sleep behind you on navy seats

two sisters mouths open like dawn

now I open my thighs let them fall

to the sides, the white coat says,

caught between them a moth

my mouth open crying out crying

out crying out Father Father




Always I want to please you. Black

hairs still ring the sink I wash my face


in, & there is always a larger thing

that must be folded, measured, swept


away. You bring the diet pills, Mother,

& I’ll bring the garam masala. We’ll


wander grocery aisles like we used to—

our basket will fill with chopped garlic


for paste, fat & mild jalapenos instead

of thin, curled chilis. A child will skip


stones in the parking lot, & I’ll finally wrap

the headscarf over my head, tuck it safe


beneath my chin. Remember how the sky

felt on that concrete rooftop? Softer


somehow because of your mother’s damp

& draped saris. That happened to you, not


me, but I am too young to love without

rage, & everywhere I have tried to go is


the same heavy morning washed low with

milk tea. Bring the henna paste, Mother.


I’ll bring cigarettes. We’ll sit on red cushions,

fan each other’s river-wet hands. Only now


I begin to understand that sorrow is tucked

inside yellow darts of forsythia, thin cracks


in burnt wood, that sadness can be the shape

of a table lamp. Mother, I am still trying hard


to carve myself into this world. Aren’t I standing

before this one tree in the park graffitied over


with engraved initials—my hand certain on

the killing knife, guiding it slowly forward?


A Few Words for the Younger Self Tying Her Shoes

Loop the coarse white ribbon through one hole and then the other. Let the day glimmer through you like dawn through the white drapes. Outside, West Texas is a low, yellow field across which your body will one night unravel between the fingers of a man whose name you won’t recall. You will forget entire years of your life: they are the rolled oceans of maps you want to paper the walls with but can’t. Hold both ends in your hands.

One afternoon in Bangladesh, you will find yourself standing at the opening of an alleyway filling with rainwater. Pull the shoelaces taut. A woman will pull her sari up to wade through it. The dark spoke of one exposed leg, thinner than the other, will not make you weep. Cross one lace over the other. The longing to weep is already a tongue of dark water you can never let speak. One day you will glide a hand over a lover’s hipbone. You’ll learn that bone can both curve light and be curved by it. Untie the bow. Make it neat. Gather the laces in your hands.

Let the laces fall from your fingers. Smooth down your dress before the mirror. Unlet the sleep-frizzed tendrils from its braid: ravel it back into a shape your mother will not frown over. Downstairs, she is cupping her hands around a mug of hot tea, staring past you into a room you cannot stand in the center of. One evening you’ll press your faces close to the same mirror to line your eyes with kohl. She’ll say, I was too young to be a mother. Make the dark line you’re pulling across your eyelid neat. I didn’t know many things, she will continue. Meet her eyes in the mirror. Begin again.


 Tarfia Faizullah’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, Blackbird, The Massachusetts Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Kenyon Writers’ Workshop, and other honors. Her manuscript Seam was a finalist for the Alice James Beatrice Hawley Award and the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.


(“Aubade: Doctor’s Appointment” originally published in Ninth Letter; “Adulthood” originally published in The Nepotist; “A Few Words for the Younger Self Tying Her Shoes” originally published in Grist)