what did they leave in your body?

another moon, bathwater, acoustic instrumental. urgency. the vast
unknown. cushioned seat swings over water. a terrace
overlooking lisboa where we honored our hunger. exalted it
even. figs. dates. persimmons. kalamata olives doused in oil.
indulging in preparation—i always knew you would return—like
a habit. my reaction muscle memory: self-sacrifice in exchange
for intimacy. drinking dirt, planting earth—mother tongue
sometimes violent, like palm to cheek. i nursed your wounds
without knowing it. your broken so beautiful i coaxed it out of
you. couldn’t release you even after all the ugly. attachment with
no purpose. peaking without substances. nearby i could smell a
sweeter fragrance but it was too faint. besides, what’s sweetest is
what we deny ourselves. no peace. no loyalty. i am still looking
over my shoulder, still muslim-ing. no longer on that terrace. no
longer turning down strange men at tourist sites. now in boston,
admiring a mauve anarkali that i’ll never wear. not because i
can’t afford it, but because i’ve decided i’m not good enough. to
look in the mirror and say, no. not enough. what a strange
version of me—how grateful i am to be free of her. when you tell
me you say the same things to yourself, i nod. it can take up to
ten severe betrayals to turn that voice around. it isn’t as simple as
befriending a lahori & sharing your trials over a moon-kissed
lake. before the voice disappears, your inner circle will dwindle
until they can all fit in your car. be careful to never name them.
this too, requires unlearning. and remember—there will always
be a corner of the heart so foreign, where you let the worst
people live. tell Allah you forgive them, even if you don’t mean
it. eventually they’ll be gone, time will have passed, and you’ll
be grateful. if they had stayed, it would have been turmoil


Rukhsar Palla is a poet living in New York City. Her poems have been published in Pank, Cape Rock, and other literary journals. Currently, she is working on a collection of poems titled Muslimah Wandering.   WEB   INSTA