Poetry / December 2016 (Issue 34)


by Rakhshan Rizwan

All my life I've been a klutz, too clumsy to be a Pakistani girl, in my
land feminine gentility is currency, balancing a heavily embroidered
ten-tonne duppata on the chest while making small talk and receiving
guests, or carrying a tray full of cups of hot tea without spilling a single
drop are life skills worth having, pottering samosas into equilateral,
shapes, and interring the potato-and-pea mush inside,
sprinkling coriander and caramelized onions onto the haleem,
exchanging that semi-intimate side hug with fifty year old
tharki uncles, letting them come into contact with just the appropriate
amount of skin, concealing those bruises under the eyes
with a dab of MAC and Bobbi Brown, balancing
misshapen postpartum bodies on four-inch Jimmy Choos, dissecting
both volatile politics and eligible bachelors in the same breath,
hiding the monthly salary in one’s bra before boarding the evening
wagon, and fitting one’s body in the men’s section, discreetly
breastfeeding a yelping infant at a wedding, bleaching those
dark brown, rogue sideburns and turning them brunette and gold,
dusting a walnut-wood dressing table every day while delicately avoiding
the urge to remove begum sahib's diamond earrings from the top-drawer,
stealing cold mangoes from the refrigerator and
wrapping them into a faded dupatta, covering a pregnancy in yards
of lawn and paisley, teasing out a divorce from underneath
clenched teeth and tapering tongues,

whenever I try to fit my body,
into a corset of proprieties, the excess fat and flesh protrudes,
this way            and that                   way, bungling the fitting and the line breaks,
and the letters spill and spatter, so                      I have given up trying to be
a woman and have started to write poetry              instead
here too, consonance assonance require me to pour
molten brew into careful, musical shapes, sonnets demand the precarious
balancing of rhyme and meter, and my awkward            body
can barely breathe in ghazals and rhyming couplets,
eventually the stanzas will give way, and the lines will exceed their end-stopped limits. I
have started to really eat at dinner parties and to write way too much,
the writing now slips this way
                                   and that way,         but I don’t care        I'm becoming callous
and overweight,                 and forgotten where I started             Caesura.
Every day I eat platefuls of words and I carry
my corpulent poems with pride to social gatherings, I shove my non-air-conditioned skin, my
pungent scent, my fraying duppatas and my divorce against the manicured bodies of high-society
and I use too many words, always        to say the things I need to,
I am becoming horrendously verbose, and using adverbs
I have started to tell not show and to    speak in CAPS and my body is becoming CAPS.
 Rakhshan Rizwan was born in Lahore, Pakistan and moved to Germany where she studied Literature and New Media. She is currently a PhD candidate at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Her poems have appeared in Blue Lyra Review, Bird's Thumb, aaduna, The Missing Slate, Postcolonial Text and elsewhere. She is the winner of the Judith Khan Memorial Poetry Prize (2015). Her poetry pamphlet is forthcoming from The Emma Press in July 2017. 
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