Artwork by Umema Kanwal Hayat
My uncle boasts of the dark mark
on his forehead – a visible diagnosis
of his piety. His wife smiles at the mark
and nods. It is impossible to look
into his eyes without Fury
threatening to overwhelm her.
This woman, laughs louder than her husband’s voice. Her children?
Her love is softer than the back of his hand.
They will choose someday.
Until then, they abide by my aunt’s
muted, pink, swollen eyes.
how many pounds will buy obedience?
how many flowers will his hands plant?
This man. This man.
Who is this man?
Father’s favorite prayer beads are scattered underneath his prayer mat. His incantations never
extend to the tar like words
falling from his tongue that I swear
may be made of the same substance it spews. Vile – poisonous. risky consumption.
sister twisted the string till all the little beads went scattering. Volume makes her nervous
hide it before he comes, mama hisses.
the inscriptions carved into the tasbih imprinted on her face. For 90 seconds. maybe more?
same hand same prayers
all those little beads choking her me mama never breathed again.
Put on a Chaddar today
Never underestimate the weight of it like I did
brought suddenly to my knees like something broke against the floor
probably my bones but that’s someone else’s job not mine
could it be guilt fear anger
that has brought me to bow my head
to a wall. The paint and plaster deserted it leaving behind only some cement and brick
I call upon my god in a prayer
there is nothing but my heart thumping away – an all too knowing beat
it is futile to search for my god here
I already know where they are:
the hair shorn off, her face glowing in the mirror
the light in her face is god
he works for his father
day by day taking orders
setting aside the glass his own thirst never quenched
and on the weekend when he might celebrate
the sigh escaping his mouth is god
why look for god in places that have never held them
fostering only a betrayal
to what I already know.
Menahil Shahid is a student of Political Science, Sociology, and Psychology at Forman Christian College and University, Lahore, Pakistan. She spends her time writing, attempting to learn new instruments, and hoping to sing well enough to bring a nightingale to her window.
You can see more of Menahil’s on Facebook.