‘Girls like you’ your mother says
‘are going to be disappointed a lot.’
She’s chopping coriander so fast that her hand is a blur
and you’re 12 and you’re standing
like a tremble, grubby knees and tear stained cheeks,
an offering in front of her.
‘Why?’ Your voice is a quiet shake.
She puts the knife down and calls you ‘jaan’
she holds your face in her wet hands,
you don’t flinch because this
is what love looks like
she kisses your forehead like forgiveness
‘because you mean what you say,
you think other people are the same.’
She tells you that she spent four years
trying to learn their language
but people ask how you are
and walk away before you can tell them.
‘I’d rather be silent.’ She says.
‘At least being quiet is honest.’
You’ll come home seven years later
wearing your heart like a bruise
on the inside of your sleeve
‘mama,’ you’ll say, voice like a thunder crack
‘he said he loved me, and I believed him,
I shouldn’t have,
I think that he lied.’
She’ll be older then, but she’ll kiss you
just as tender, just as birdlike.
‘Is it my fault?’ You’ll ask.
She is half lioness, half woman. She is all roar.
‘Listen to me’ she calls you her soul again.
She says it in your language so you know
that she means it.
‘You are so infinitely tender,’ she takes the frown
of your face in her hands and holds it carefully
‘People will not always know what to do with that.
You can’t ever be sorry for the way you loved,
You can’t be sorry for who you loved.
Don’t ever let them bend you backwards
don’t let them make you hard or bitter.’
Her voice turns into a growl
‘You did not get this from me.
Somewhere inside of you there is rain.
Somewhere in your stomach,
something beautiful is growing
and it is infinite.
Don’t you let them try and take that from you,
you are open and you are a flood,
someday someone is going to want to die in you.’
– “Jaan-E-Maan” by Azra Tabassum
(Jaan-E-Maan means “My Dear” in Persian and “Darling” in Urdu language.)