Poetry: Dilruba Ahmed

Dilruba Ahmed



Sister, let’s get my story

straight: one hand stains

your shirts so the other

can place rice

on my child’s plate.

I either sweat here

or under a stranger’s

weight.   So when you

boycott a storefront

you’ll need a louder

roar to scare off

our global predator–

let’s call him

Mr. Sweetmeat,

from the land of milk

and money, selling

garments stitched

by a woman

like me.   This is no

alpana: lovely dust

arranged and

erased in a week.

This work means

my child and I eat.


Meet your new world

artisan.   And before Boss-man

will declare, “Honey, let’s

get you a chair, fix these

doors, give you

breaks, and–

really–pay you

more,” he’ll shut

down and begin again on

the other side of town.


The cloth is cut.   The needle

waits.   Take the blood from our

thumbs to lace your suits

and skirts.   Someone always hungers

to enter the broken gate.


My baby’s cry is a siren’s

wail washing over the city.

Where’s the silence


that sleep brings?


When I shower the phantom

cries grow faint, each peal

real or imagined


water-hushed under

the showerhead’s shush.


What’s the meaning of collapse?


My jaw ratchets when I bite.

Each tooth ground to a nub.

I think of food eaten whole,


the wild animal

I’ve become.   And no one

numbers how many failures


are private, how many public.


Who will forgive me if I

act with anything

less than grace?


The body still functions.

He still extracts

what he needs–


my child at my breast:

fleshy, sated.


I churn water to milk,

straw into gold.

Weep, weep,

good little machine.


We’d only begun to detect

the air was full of tricks

if a woman could,

in a man’s hands, disappear.


The boys who manned the carousel

punched each other’s arms

when we dropped

hot coins into their greased palms.


We took a whirl.   We preened like

park birds, creatures who

feed from strangers’ fingertips.

We took a crack at the vanishing


act with the lunches

we packed–cucumbers, yoghurt.

We could stage

our own departures.


Weren’t our bodies

meant to be flat?

Those women onstage,

the wisps they became–


they infused our hair

with a form of belief.

Carolina jasmine

choked the breeze


while magicians produced

rabbits from hats, doves

where there’d been none.

Southeastern Ohio

In stuffy gyms that passed

for mosques, my sisters and I

parroted words without grace:

Allah hu akbar.   Salaam

alaikum.   Then the prayer-song broke

and we mimicked instead

lyrics thrumming from

somebody’s Walkman:   I want

your sex.   The station wagon crawled

from house to house where

driveways spilled

with brown kids, where a friend

flashed her thabees as though

casting a hex.

In another country,

we’d have fasted and feasted in a

month of sunset meals, wearing

gifts of new dresses.   Instead,

I took salt in my mouth

with our neighbors, brothers

from Egypt who passed the ball

and dribbled and spit all month

on the court, avoiding

their own saliva.


“Alpana,” “Grace,” “Carnival,” and “Southeastern Ohio” were reprinted from Dhaka Dust with permission from Graywolf Press, copyright 2011.

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