ਸਬਰ / sabar / patience
some mothers wear patience
far too gracefully.
it is the shawl draped over
her shoulders every time her son
walks out the front door with no
regard for the ones still suffocating
in this house
it is the scarf calmly covering
her head hiding the black dahlias
on her neck
it is the intricate pashmina wrapped
around her body when i see her catching
tears in cloth or hiding bloodshot eyes
behind the protection of her chuni
or wiping all the sadness away with the
very thing that she refuses to remove.
in this world
worth is defined by the way
poreless skin stretches across
correctly chiseled bone
by the places where
fat strategically stores itself
by the obedience we hold against
our own heads – safety removed
as we discard all the pieces of us
that do not fit within the plastic mould.
an open letter to south asians
but what if you get dark
is to say that dark bodies don’t let light in
is to say that there is something dirty
about the biological makeup of skin
is to say that some people are born clean
and need to keep it that way
is to say that you don’t hate black people
but you thank god you weren’t born one.
ਕੋਡ ਸਿਵਚ / kode-svich / code-switch
why should my tongue
choke on itself for my
intelligence to be proven?
i will not call my voice colloquial
when yours is always welcome in its natural form.
my words nach between two languages fighting over them.
my thoughts travel the earth before i collect them.
and if they need to be described in a boli that sounds
barbaric to ears that don’t know how to hold them
so be it. i will not italicise all the parts of myself
that make no sense to you.
perhaps the real ruler of the world
erase a little iraqi girl and call her collateral
blur the details of a black man’s face
and say he fits a description
make them feel like they
belong inside a country
and soon they will know
who to push out
it won’t take long for people
to believe this border really exists
even if there isn’t a wall
to stare at.
all this went down at once
level three, room nine, maternity
one woman breaks the silence at
this small being who is five hours
and seventeen minutes into a world
that refuses to need her: look, at least
her skin is fair. and a woman who is
five hours and seventeen minutes into
motherhood screams. allows fourteen
hours and thirty-two minutes of labour
and an epidural that didn’t help to pour
through her vocal cords. demands
that they all leave if they cannot be awestruck
at this small being worthy of all the
space she takes up in this world. and
an ocean pours from her red-rimmed
eyes. and a nurse comes running. and a
small being wakes and raises her voice.
and a grandmother who refuses to be
awestruck by a miracle looks to her son
for support. his eyes show her the door.
level two, room fourteen, mental health
six people gather in a circle. a black-haired
woman crosses her legs with a book open in
her lap. two boys lock eyes. a lanky girl stares
absentminded out the window. a soft-eyed
person stretches their arms up to the ceiling
palms upturned in almost prayer. and you. you
are here without anyone else knowing. it’s
freeing, isn’t it? to be gone just this once. for
them to think you are at the top of a ski hill and
trying to climb up from the bottom of so many
different things. how do you feel today?
(like my lungs are not collapsing. like
everything is not a mistake. like i am not
a mistake. like i do not need to erase myself
to fix myself. like i am not a single branch
floating in an upset sea. like there is something
bright out there. that maybe. just maybe.
it is for me.)
today? i feel – i feel good.
level one, room twenty-nine, sacred space
she walks in between my sobs. begins to vacuum
the floor before she catches my eye before i can
shield my face before i can pretend i do not need
help. asks me what’s wrong and is greeted
by my silence. asks me if it is because of someone
in the hospital and it is hollowing the way the
story comes so quickly. the patient that does
not exist and the surgery that does not exist
because i am better at building gates than
opening doors. the arms around my body
work, though. for a moment, someone
hears and this is enough.
Excerpted with permission from When You Ask Me Where I’m Going, Jasmin Kaur, Penguin Books.