By Anushka Joshi | December 4, 2018
Khulka, Who Had Been to School Inspired by the story of one of the Yazidi women kidnapped by ISIS. After all the men, and elderly And children had been taken away Somewhere, The women from the mountains Were taken to Raqqa, delivered In ice cream trucks to prisons. People on the street looked away From them. They scratched and bloodied themselves In the dark of the crowded cells So no one would buy them. And Khulka, who had been to school And knew how to read and write, Used a needle She had smuggled into jail To tattoo the names of her husband And father on her arm, so that Her body would be recognized If she was killed. She used ash to do this, And milk from another Woman’s breast, which, They all knew by this time, Would not be needed anymore. Elena Says No Elena had been told by friends And family to say “No” to whatever the immigration Officer asked her. If she said yes, it would mean A return to Reynosa And the man waiting to kill her. As they sat in the small room A blue table between them The officer asked Elena, “Do you have anything to declare?” Elena said no. The officer asked Elena “Are you carrying any items Containing dairy products?” Elena said no. The officer asked her, “Have you ever been charged With a felony or misdemeanor?” Elena said no. Finally, he asked her: “Would you be harmed if you returned To your home country?” Elena hesitates, feeling along The words of a new language, Like a blind woman reading Braille for the first time, Unsure. Then, as she has been told to, Elena says no. The Rohingya Refugee Camp’s Lost and Found 1. The mosque microphone Once used for prayers Announces found children With lost parents. 2. They do not speak Bengali And so the sign has many mistakes: “If you lost your familys any members Than you can publicity here without Any money,” It is written in the handwriting of A child, for other children. 3. Fatima prays five times a day, As she always has, But now each time is for a person Killed. 4. Children who had just learned To walk, are told to crawl So the soldiers will not see them Behind the tall grass. 5. When she is full, Jasminara remembers How she lost her sister In desperation, running Towards the trucks that were delivering biscuits. How I Came Here from Myanmar They say how did you A child Come all the way here Alone, across continents I say They burnt my family And in the flames there was a map I say They cut my sister to pieces with a machete And each slash was a compass arrow I say They destroyed my home And the ghost of that wood became my boat I say When you see neighbors losing limbs Your limbs run of their own accord I say you cannot get lost Once you have lost everything Swaad, Who Lives in Damascus Inspired by a case in Ann Jones’ book War Is Not Over When It’s Over. Swaad, who lives in Damascus, Says that her daughter Rita Is almost four, and has never In her life spoken, except once When they went to the UNHCR Center, to register themselves as refugees. Perhaps the girl felt the need to speak, To prove the reasons behind her silence, So many silences Compete in that line To be registered. All of a sudden, she said: “My father is dead. They Shot him in the stomach and face,” The man behind the counter Went pale, but Swaad, Numb to the words, New to the voice, Was crying with joy. Hospitals in The Congo There are hospitals in the Congo Where the doctors know which group Committed a rape based On the wounds, like autographs, one says, Left on the body- Some prefer knives, some fire, some bullets. The hospitals are so full that The women do not have beds of their own, And are forced, once again, To share their bed. And those who are embarrassed by their stories Ask that their files be buried. These files detail what happened, whether it Was being stopped on the way home from school, Or having their mouth cut off with a machete (for refusing to Say yes) Or having been gang-raped on the orders Of their husband’s first wife (who was Abandoned in the first place because she was raped). Some have no chance of burying what happened, Like the eleven-year- old girl who is photographed Looking away from the camera, holding twins. She knows she will be “made fun of” by her neighbors, She no longer expects her friends to play with her. But those who do ask, the ones with wounds Too far inside them to be visible, Have their files placed in a green bucket By aid workers. It is lowered into the contested soil, Like a bucket being lowered into a well And never brought up again to quench A thirst which will never be quenched. One can only ask, As each rape takes root, What flowers will grow From these seeds of war? Ameena on the Fourth Floor in Ghouta, Syria “Sarine is a colorless, Odorless, tasteless liquid Which evaporates through the air, It inhibits the acetylcholinesterase enzyme, Causing the heart and other muscles to spasm, Death by asphyxiation happens within minutes.” Ameena only understood what it was when She saw that the daughter who Had always asked to borrow her lipstick Had lips that were turning a clear blue. And the infant with reddened eyes Had not been crying at all, As she thought he had. And that the dog was not foaming because Of rabies, because her son was foaming too. When she heard the explosion, Ameena had looked around, and seen nothing, Felt nothing, and thought- “I have heard the bombs so much I am imagining them now.” And just before she died a colorless, tasteless Death, she saw the grandmother, Perched in her chair, not yet awake, The one who, ever since the war began, had prayed To die in her sleep. The family next door had heard the bomb And rushed to the basement Thinking it was a bomb like any other. (They always were faster Than Ameena, Even to the ration lines) They had died a few seconds before Ameena On the fourth floor did: “Heavier-than-air sarine” sinks to the bottom First. An Old Man Remembers the Partition An old man remembers when he was a boy. When electricity came to the village, The mothers and fathers would tell them To stay away from the wires. When freedom came to the country, They heard it on the radio, it arrived Through the electricity wires; freedom Has a crackling sound, it breaks, resumes, then breaks Again. He remembers when those of the other religion Were said to be approaching the village. Some women threw themselves in the wells, Some burnt themselves or buried themselves alive With the aid of those they loved. (The religion that burns the dead and the religion That buries the dead, both did this to their living women To protect them from the other). His mother and his sister stood by the electrical Wire, their hands closing in on it, Their last touch; these two who had danced at weddings, Danced in agony at the moment of their death. Those of the other religion never arrived. Sometime after that, there was rain, The electricity went away; Prayers for the women Were said in candlelight. San Antonio I don’t remember when I stopped Visiting my relatives in San Antonio. They were the kind of immigrants About whom our family said, “They should have stayed back.” The mother prayed. The father Went to work at Taco Bell Wearing a Mexican vest every morning, An absurd cowboy hat, boots, And the hope of being accepted. He never had garlic for breakfast. I wanted to tell him that his co-workers would Still never speak to him, but I was as ashamed Of the truth as he was of garlic. His daughter led me by my nine-year-old hand To the Subway where she worked, Gave me her free Sub of the day, And watched me eat with the eyes of one Who knows this is the only she might ever be able to give. Five years later she would drive at three o’clock In the morning from Dallas back to San Antonio To escape a bad marriage. The son was the only one who fit in. One night, Someone had stepped into the gas station where he worked, Put a cold gun to his head, and asked him to empty the till. Over the years I would retain pity and lose memory of them, As one does of unhappy relatives and the poor. But I would remember how he told this story, Someone in whose life the only novelty was a brush with death, Someone in whose life the most exciting thing Had been being robbed. I would remember the American phrase- Which mistook permanence for happiness: “Are you staying for good?” And think that for my relatives in San Antonio And for their children, who took up their friends’ jobs In fast-food restaurants when the friends went to college, “Staying forever” and “staying for good” would always Mean two different things. Listen To those who tiled the earth of this country With a mosaic of blood and brains To those who swept it aside, Planted fields and proclaimed this prosperity, To these all we can say is: To forget a crime against humanity Is one in itself. Do not ignore the aches of these acres, Do not close your windows Against the wounds of the dead Which whisper like crickets Tonight, Their skins are your curtains, Do not close them to the truth. Remember that this happened Not long ago, And the fly which buzzes in your ear Might have lingered on a corpse, It bothers you, I know, But listen to what it says.