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Tarfia Faizullah

Death is repetitive, and so are its effects, but we clean up to show up for our elders. One draft is my messy room as I tear through clothes looking for the right thing to wear. The final draft is the portable compartment I've built to hold my feelings during the funeral. Thinking about my aunt made me think about the small but dense country my family hails from, Bangladesh, and what else is going on there at the present moment: a refugee crisis little known here in the West. Thankfully, others before me have grappled with how to do this living thing too -- I am thankful for the tradition of the ghazal. It gave me a pre-established form in which to pour feelings that verge on hysterical. It helped me to show up in a way that feels respectful, while reminding me that I'm not alone.


This poem was originally published in Poetry magazine.

< draft >


even now comes back the itch-crawl 
a tree of bites or a snarl of black curls

my aunt drew the comb through my hair steady 
and crushed what she found 

listen, I want back that intimacy
                                                          my head in her hands / a disaster / a delicate tree

I hadn't learned yet / a tree is a household of beautiful birds 

listen, my aunt's name is hasna henna / night blooming jasmine tree 

two oceans from here the names of trees 
grow from my aunt's mouth and her progeny 
in a language the other does not speak 

for years i have not visited my other country 
or walked with my aunt beside the rubble of new trees

I ate rice from a palm tree leaf 

across two oceans my aunt is dying
don't forget, her name is night blooming jasmine tree
across two oceans 
all I do is write poems which heavily feature trees

but what happens if you replace tree
with refugee

all I do is write poems which heavily feature refugees
night blooming jasmine refugee 
once, a man i loved
told me to stop saying two oceans

two oceans two oceans two oceans 
across two oceans i inhaled 

the perfume of a hasna henna tree
my aunt was beside me 

will i know the right time to stay or leave 

listen, when they test my hands 

for gunpowder, tell them I donated 
my own blood to the cause


Infinity Ghazal Beginning with Lice and Never Ending with Lies

For Hasna Henna and the Rohingya

Lice? My aunt once drew a comb through my hair steady;
she wouldn’t let what feeds on blood eat my inner tree.

Where now is the word for such intimacy? I know it still,
but all I see are jungles burnt of our rarest trees.

My point is: it takes a while to say, “I am a fire hazard,” or,
“a household of rare birds” is another way to say tree.

I wrote one draft of this poem, then she died. Will I
forget her name, Hasna Henna? Let’s smell a tree;

night-blooming jasmine, o-so-heavenly! A sapling
succeeds by flourishing from a tree’s seed.

How else to perfume these needs we breathe? A sapling
of course = a small and soft tree (i.e. baby tree).

I grieve the rice she fed me off a palm leaf.
Only now can I fully marvel: how finely formed is a tree!

Someone I loved said to stop with the oceans in my poems — 
well, oceans + oceans + oceans! We drown so many trees.

(Night blooming tree = baby tree = once and future tree.)
Lately, all I think about are trees.

Read this again to replace tree with refugee.
Tarfia = joy in the margins + one who lies to protect trees.