Aisha Zakira
liliflotus@gmail.com

CHRISTMAS LIST

1. Someone just asked me how I celebrate Christmas in India and if it is snowing
2. It’s 75 degrees °F and it’s only 9am
3. My mother and I go to my hometown, Surat
4. Christmas Eve, there is a wedding parade on the street
5. I bond unexpectedly with my aunt
6. She shows me a video on her iPhone of the community’s head imam welcoming the new imam onto the altar in front of the convocation
7. The video shakes because she is crying
8. You don’t need to understand someone to love them
9. Christmas day, the family goes to see a Bollywood action movie
10. My grandmother sits next to me and speaks instructions to the characters on screen
11. “There’s a bomb in that box. She’s going to die. Move to the left.”
12. I’m obsessed with butts and curves lately
13. Curves are harder to distinguish when the women wear burqas
14. I persist; I keep looking
15. Christmas night dinner we eat at a Chinese restaurant
16. Hakka noodles and chicken with basmati rice
17. My aunt drives too fast on the way home
18. My grandfather grips the seat and knits his eyebrows together so hard I half expect a dress to fall in front of his face
19. Boxing day, we wear pajamas until 4pm
20. My aunt and my mother measure fabric for a yellow burqa
21. Extra for me because my hips are generous
22. I shower my generous hips in cold water until my fingertips wrinkle
23. Pond’s cold cream on the tattoo that I haven’t told my family about
24. It says (r)evolution
25. My mother had said, “You can’t get a tattoo. What if your husband one day doesn’t like it?”
26. She excitedly uploads sections of the Quran onto her iPad
27. My grandmother draws a moon behind my right ear to guard against the evil eye
28. The windows are open and someone is playing jingle bells
29. You don’t have to understand someone to love them

WEEKEND INSTRUCTIONS

When a bartender
asks about the scar on your arm
as you wait for your gin and tonic
no ice,
remember how your flesh opened against a granite wall
on the Kashmiri border
as a soldier examined your passport.
Call it your possibility scar
then remove the lime.

Leave the bar.
Cross the road
and when a taxi
hurtles past your outstretched hands
and Subhanallah falls from your lips,
do not look surprised.
Do not feel confused.
Wash your face
and go to bed.

The next morning,
eat peaches from the can
and learn to tie a sari
by the instruction of a YouTube video.
Argue with your mother in three languages
as you give up on folding pleats
and curse yourself silently
for not knowing how to say ‘sticky’
in the language of the country
that your skin and sinew
assign you to.

Rediscover the handbag
that your grandmother gave you
for your Muslim birthday.
When you discover a half-used lipstick
in the pocket,
pawn the bag,
use the money to buy a vibrator.
Then buy an avocado and eat it
on a park bench
with iodized salt from Starbucks.

On your way home,
recall every person
of textured, difficult beauty.
Every suggestion of ferocity.
Every instance of tenderness.
Call this your history of love.
Write it down and put it into
the check deposit box of the nearest multinational bank.

Then buy a map of the world.
Tape it to your bedroom wall.
Find India.
The one that looks like a hastily folded handkerchief,
and circle it.
But this time,
include Bangladesh,
and Pakistan,
and tell everyone who will listen
that the name India
comes from the river Indus
which flows in what is now known as Pakistan,
that once we were one country
and that this is another history of love.

Swallow everything.
Give up nothing:
Amla and question mark
Garam masala from Trader Joe’s
and your collection of Pablo Neruda.
You do not need to trade
one love in
for another.

On Monday morning,
do not lie in the cramped space
of your habitual worship.
Open the windows,
and all your shampoo bottles,
so that you remember the smell of beginning.
You are a child of blurred boundaries
and this must be a blessing.

LETTER TO INDIA

Dear India,
You are the reason that I get out of bed in the morning
And this is the only thing about you
that I know for sure

I came to you one year ago
after a dinner party
where I was asked how it feels
as an Indian woman
speaking English with a British accent
to have the voice of the colonizer
inside the body of the colonized

I came to you all suitcases and certainty
all wide eyes and open palms
all fire and thesaurus
and you knocked me clean out of synonyms

I asked for revelation
And you gave me broken gas cylinders
I asked for oracle
You gave me car exhaust
I asked for certainty
And you took my hand and laughed

You were never about making it easy
You sat across from me; precarious, sultry
Snapping as I stumbled over your syllables
Fumbling for the appropriate pronoun as though it was
A telephone ringing in the dark

You are slow to respond.
I watch the painted crescent of your upper lip
I watch your lips
tick
And wonder which card you will deal me today

You think that I will give it up and leave
But I am cupped tight within your hands
You are the parentheses
To my paragraph
I wouldn’t be allowed on the page without you.

Many years later
When I am less block print
more pinstripe
I hope you will be proud to tell people
That you knew me when I was hungry
And you were my world.
After all, it is you who always said that love
in whatever way it comes
is flawless

You continue to teach me well.
Ferocity: like high noon sunshine in Bombay, the light that brings the city to its knees
like ancient Sodom praying for redemption.
Faith: singular as a bell tolling
in an empty alleyway
That in devotion
there is no room for deviation.

Aisha is a wanderlust-struck pyrotechnic who likes avocados and the song “Build Me Up, Buttercup.”

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