Places I Avoid

Rush hour traffic
Pot holes
Window seats
Vitriolic comment sections
Abandoned parking lots
Overpriced restaurants
The route to your house
Fast lanes
My hometown
The local library
Cracks in the pavement
The intersection in Venn diagrams
Rain puddles
Prayer mats
The patches of skin where your hand once was
The small of my back
My palm
My fingers
And the spaces in between
A crime scene

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Crevasse To A Fault Line

For my cousin, Dhia

this is for the day
you discovered
bones aren’t the only things that break
like fog melting into asphalt
he disappeared into the night
a father, more ghost than flesh
his mouth, a revolver
the sound of gunshot, your nursery rhyme
after he left
a crack worked its way
up the living room wall
from a hairline fracture
to a crevasse, to a fault line
and your mother would tell you
not to worry, as she often does
and you hope for her sake that
this house is stronger
than the two of you
but you still ask yourself:
how long before the cement
finally gives way
before the floodgates open and
these bones are mended
but how do you heal
if they are no entry wounds
how do you bury the dead
when there is no body
only a broken rib
a collapsed lung and
a hunger for air

Things We Don’t Talk About

When you were younger, we’d dress you up as a boy— in bowl cuts and hand-me-down racetrack pyjamas. The first time we crossed the sea, you cried inconsolably the whole trip here. The passengers in economy didn’t take to a wailing toddler too kindly. I wondered if maybe you could sense that I was afraid too.

When we arrived at the small, dingy hotel room we would call home for the next six months, with nothing but the clothes on our back and a rice cooker, you cried for the country we abandoned. Look, under the dressing table. That’s a bat cave. And over there, see this closet. It’s a castle, and you’re the queen. Come to the window with me. See that, the beach is your entire playground. Look at all that space.

The first time we took you to the beach, you got sand in your eyes. Your first instinct was always to reach for my hands. When you stood proudly on the sofa cushions you stacked in the living room, and lost your balance. When we took out your training wheels and the split second before you feel like falling. The day we first taught you how to swim. Now all I do is wonder when my hands stopped being your anchor.

Is it the day you were crying in the shower and I smashed my hand on the door? Or is it the moment I reached for the car keys when I should’ve stayed? Don’t you know I visit the headstones of conversations we didn’t have and run my fingers over the inscription? Here lie the words left unsaid.

In my dreams, I light my demons on fire and watch them glow. My jaw finally breaks. My tongue untwists to say something lovelier than the past decade, and your hands intertwine quietly into mine— a catalyst for a warmer beginning.

Fragments

You will never forget the way he smelled, like tangerines in the summer. Even years later, you would catch yourself thinking about the stolen glances in school corridors. You found his laugh in a boy in Bucharest. His particular shade of blonde in a girl you met on the train once. You, always piecing together the fragments of your past, each cobbled together. A mosaic— indecipherable, incomplete. You, always wondering when the final piece would wash ashore.

Domino Dancing

I write her and write her
sometimes she is a victim of war
a divorcee
an unemployed 27-year-old
a suicidal magician
sometimes she is a ghost that haunts the story
but always a dysfunctional family
always lost
never a happy ending
I build her and build her
like pieces of dominoes but
however elaborate I try to assemble her
demolishing everything she stands for
is far more gratifying

Rubik’s Cube

Like the sides of an unsolved Rubik’s cube, her life is a multi-coloured mess. She lives in a paradox— contemplates the bigger picture from her 6 x 6 cubicle, toils away from 9 to 5 and calls it making a living. She was taught to fit into glass slippers, instead of breaking glass ceilings.

Waits for Prince Charming to hold her in his open palms, trace her silhouette and feel the burden of an unsolved puzzle. Come, she’ll hand over her baggage to the first person, who walks through the door. She’s supposed to be a little too trusting anyway. But he will soon find out that the more he tries to fix her, the more damage he inflicts.

Because she has had her fair share of being picked apart and reassembled by a society that tells her that flaws are unacceptable. She was taught to rearrange her tiles— to slide, shift, twist and turn until all the sides of the cube are solved.

Girls, let me tell you that you are not a puzzle piece. Not object or metaphor. You are not perfection in a square. It is not you who needs to change.

Go and send out a search party to find the key that unlocks your voice. We’ll sneak in and steal your doubts for target practice and teach love to every fire extinguisher mouth, who tries to take away your flame. They don’t see that we have more ambition than a dozen men. They don’t see the butterfly dreams we keep in Mason jars under our beds or the secrets laced through our hearts like corset strings.

Now listen. These are the voices they tried to bury. These are our good, strong hands meant to build. These are our Rubik’s cube hearts, whole, all its patterns in proud disarray.

For Ezra

Sometimes I wish we lived before colour was invented so I could always see you like this— black and white and beautiful. Everyone is looking at you, and you wish they wouldn’t and I don’t blame them— I can’t stop looking at you either.

You are always performing, even offstage. Your years of ruthless dance training have rendered your limbs permanently eloquent. To slouch is to commit an unforgivable act. Even on hot, lazy, shirtless afternoons, your posture looks staged. Every gesture perfectly synchronized. Every smile, soft and conscious. You always look slightly embarrassed; there is a constant tinge of rose pink in your cheeks. I bury my head in your chest and your fingers are enmeshed in my unrelenting curls. And this is how we would end up every night— a set of interlocked limbs of russet brown and ivory.

I have always assumed you didn’t mind being different, at least not in the way it would bother anyone else. Whenever the boys in the neighbourhood would call you names, you merely laughed. You never gave me any reason to worry, so I never did. Until one day, I woke up to find you coiled tightly against me. The first thing I saw was the blue stain over your neck. Then, the dried blood on your knees. Your voice, still soft and steady and mine, brittle and quavering. That morning, I wondered about all the things we choose not to reveal about ourselves.

Sometimes I wish we lived before gender roles were invented so I could always see you like this— masculine and feminine and beautiful. Everyone is looking at you, and you wish they wouldn’t. When they see you, you are a broken rhyme, an abstract concept. Your presence is a question mark they do not know the answer to. You are a body to be outlined and a gender to be assigned. And god I like you. I like the way you dress— sometimes extravagant, other times toned-down. I like you in your outrageous leopard fur coat and little black dress. I like you in your white scoop neck t-shirt, with your exposed clavicle. I like you naked— your tapered waist and the gentle arch of your spine. Everyone is looking at you, and you find it amusing. I don’t blame them— I can’t stop looking at you either.