If porcelain, then only the kind — by Stanisław Barańczak

If porcelain, then only the kind
you won’t miss under the shoe of a mover or the tread of a tank;
if a chair, then not too comfortable, lest
there be regret in getting up and leaving;
if clothing, then just so much as can fit in a suitcase,
if books, then those which can be carried in the memory,
if plans, then those which can be overlooked
when the time comes for the next move
to another street, continent, historical period
or world:

who told you that you were permitted to settle in?
who told you that this or that would last forever?
Did no one ever tell you that you will never
in [this] world
[be quite] at home?


(Translated from the original Polish by Frank Kujawinski)

Subhan Allah. What a wonderful poem, no?


2020

Bleeding Purple

Ink bleeds outward and through,

And we find, like children upon discovering snow, that

A single drop of water had been enough

To expose all those ingredients that had come together

To make this purple: a pink-like quality to it, amid all these shades of blue.

We stand on the other side of

Blood-stained tissue. Of burgeoning promise, ruptured cocoons,

Think, somehow, that harmony ought to be found upon conveyor belt rat race

Production-line-like clarity, shiny plastic.

But oh dear, living, breathing, human being:

How is your heart today?

Do you perceive it heavy —

Caught up beneath world’s many images; between life’s many twists and turns?

“Busy,” we say. Drenched in things

‘To do’. There is oh, so much. We forget about purpose; focus on those craggy convolutions, and on

All these bleeding streams of blue. The work made us tired, though the hurt, from our veins, gave us poetry.

Information and tasks. Tech, and a thousand and one things

To think about, to

perform. We sit on the train; try to inhale it all like we are hungry for it,

Worry ourselves to near spiritual death about

what others may be thinking.

Close our eyes, once or twice, at least for a night-

time of contented re-centring. This is hard, my friend, but it is real. And here you stand,

Alive, alive, alive, and

Mind, heart, and soul:

All caught up, on the right side of it all,

I promise you. You are you; they are they, and

Bi’ithnillah, my friend, you will be okay. Things are not simple, but I hope that soon you will find:

That this life is yours and it is happening right now;

that you are in exactly the right place, at precisely the right time.


2020

Alcove Apple Tree

Oh to be a hummingbird in alcove 

Apple tree. To so know my space, and not at 

All. To flit around in nurtured home, to

forget that I am Small. To not remem-

-ber wolves, nor to think to think

of other skies — not even a little, or

even at all. To hum and hum,

And not worry for any little ribbon-laced lie —

Nor for any ungrounded fears of falling.

For these are simply not how to catch a little bird’s eye.

And, to Bird, her little alcove apple tree is always

ever a-calling.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Dear Moon,

Dear Moon,

You are still you, even when the sky renders you ‘half’-seeming, sometimes, and not entirely ‘whole’.

Spinning world. The ease with which, you find, it can dizzy you, tire out completely your very soul. And

maybe in five years (or less, or more) you will find yourself still there, yet overlooking some different world:

still the same one, but some things have certainly changed, haven’t they?

Or maybe in a decade or less, you will find yourself over there instead:

in that place you will necessarily meet before standing at the gates of Eternity: your earthly bed.

One small push, and into a whole new world we go.

But before that time, maybe, there are some things that you and I must do, some new people and places that we must come to know.

Dear you,

There are some undeniable elements of radiance in you. Maybe bringing them up and out will require an excavation of sorts, but I have complete faith in you;

with certainty, I do. Even in every single wrong turn you have ever taken; in every single ‘blunder’ you have ever made.

Far from home, as you have been. Trying and trying.

Still, do not fret too much. No more. I think it’s completely okay; wherever you are going, it will all be understood retrospectively, at some point, some day.

You make your own efforts; exert yourself. Tie your camels, and then remember to have hope, trust, faith. There is a fine balance between all this trying, and then it is this grand old waiting game.

Right now, it confuses, doesn’t it? It burns, then stagnates; it is tremendously elusive.

The truth is, your mind simply cannot fathom something it has never (yet) known. And though the imagination may seek to do exactly what it tends to — it cannot, at present, tell you exactly what.

Your state of mind finds itself in a rush, sometimes, doesn’t it? To get there. Where? Somewhere. That tyrannous abstract timeline of yours.

And to actually listen to all that others might have, to say about you. To worry about their receptions, perceptions. Those ones who put you on some unfair pedestal, and the ones who may do the exact opposite. Praise and criticism: people are excessive, biased, and unfair in both. Do they hold the keys to the full picture, anyway?

And, what? Is it they whom you exist for, Moon mine?

Divine Plan, I promise you. And the knowledge that you were fashioned by the very same supreme Being whom you pray to. So keep going; trust that the destinations are worth this extra mile.

Allah is closer to you than your own jugular vein is, and there is not a single tear that has fallen from your eye that He has not heard fall; accounted for.

So doubt the intentions of others, sometimes. Doubt the veracity of their words, but of Divine mercy, at least, always be sure.

It is He who cures; who, even better than you, at present, are able to: understands your hurt.

“Indeed, I am near,” He tells you, while you are struggling to emerge, a little seedling being brought forth, right through all this dirt.

And come, the rain will, too, won’t she? See, even if you can’t quite say what it looks like just yet, grow towards pure light, I so hope, will you.

It honestly matters not what others see or hear of it — or don’t. But always, at least, “To thine own self, be true.” [W.S]

And so, be there for yourself. In all your own colours, every single one. Maybe those seven or so years of mostly-greys will only be preparatory, for gliding steps towards a whole different experience. New knowledge, a new place.

And Jannah. For some people, such a place is already promised.

Another thing that is promised: that the life of this world gets intensely hard, at times. To each, their own individualised set of tests. And it will all tear at your soul, and at times, you will fall. Some of those moments, alone, when it feels like nothing but the entire sky is pushing you down. Have faith in those moments, too.

The word for trials, tribulations, and obstacles, in Islam is ‘Fitnah’. Imagery-wise, based on the process of separating gold from its ores. But first, a necessary melting process. It may threaten to tear you down to your very core. And here, I think, something, perhaps, quietly shines.

Perhaps they will be seven harder years, marred by all those thoughts and such. Same old silences, absences, aggressions. But be still. And know.

Then, perhaps, seven easier ones. This is what life does: it works in cycles, it ebbs and flows. And, dear Moon,

Maybe you cannot put words to it all now. There is seemingly no preciseness at all, not here. These current experiences of ours. No fences with which to neatly encase everything that has happened. But I can promise you this much: it is with purpose — all of it.

When Moosa (AS)’s mother lay her baby son into that basket atop that river, it had been her heart that bore the brunt of that pain. An entire heart made “empty”. And it was Allah who had then mended it for her. Brought it all back together; everything in place.

And it was Allah who brought you, dear Moon, into being. And the sun. Conception, and life. Everything necessary to bring us here, and to keep us going. As well as everything that we share this planet with. It is not at all beyond our Creator to change things completely, for you. And every ‘Fitnah’ that you experience is with noble reason; without a doubt, this much is true. Jannah is reserved for those of mankind who will choose to, and struggle to, become Pure Gold, at the end of it all.

And, yes, it can sometimes get mighty hard. Seemingly impossible. All these things that it feels like nobody else will ever understand.

Just know that, even in darkness, your light still sings, dear Moon. Some will hear your songs; they understand. The ways of its ebbs, and all of its flows. And they have complete faith in you.

So doubt that things have been that ‘good’ thus far. If you so wish, doubt this well.

But do not doubt in hope. In all the good stuff that is yet to come. In the hard bits that you will, Insha Allah, get right through.

Doubt most things about yourself, sometimes, but do not doubt that I believe in you.

The clock is ticking now. It always has been. So, with due knowledge of all that has taken place, do remember, do forget.

And worry not too much for whenever night, once more, begins to set.

No more. Shed old skins, farewells and hellos, and on new adventures, allow yourself to freely embark.

For is it not true that you have always loved the stars too fondly, to ever again be afraid of the dark?


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Little Sister

The little girl who tries so hard to smile through all her tears.

But then she thinks, for a moment, a little bit too much,

Hides her face and wipes it with the back of her hand.

You can witness the sadness slowly enveloping her. See, somebody, at some point in time, somewhere, had taught this little girl to carry, on her back

The bulk of somebody else’s shame.

 

I so wish I could exchange those tears of yours for laughter, if even for only a minute;

Tell you that flowers ought to bloom from whichever grounds atop which you walk,

and that every part of you is in complete harmony with all that is good in here.

 

Everything that could ever possibly be beautiful about humanity

Is contained in the eye of a child. And slowly, their skins stretch.

Their minds, once almost wholly impressionable, become rather powerful. 

Meaty ‘frog legs’ grow into ones that can astutely kick footballs around.

 

Truth, beauty, goodness: our primary colours, perhaps.

 

You know, I can remember, as clear as day, the first time I held you in my arms; bated breaths,

Those sunshine-infused moments before you opened your eyes and took a good look at our world for the first time.

I prayed those lights wouldn’t hurt you; wished time would grind to a halt when you wrapped the entirety of your tiny hand around my finger,

Wished time would also just get over itself and show me what you might look like, aged ten.

Your eyes were jet black, as promised by nature, I suppose. Your expression was at once receptive and puzzled.

And the first time you cried, there were four people around you to listen, to watch your face struggle to let out your first sound,

Red cheeks, dampened mittens. And then, an uproarious introduction:

you made your voice known to all of us, a job very well done.

 

From this time onwards, I simply knew that I could not let you ever cry by yourself. I am always scared, afraid that you are still too small to handle such sadnesses.

And you know, seven months before your birth, I was allowed to catch a glimpse of you before most other people got to:

Ultrasound pictures tucked away in a little envelope. I saw your nose; you, the image of serenity, tucked away like that, not quite ready yet, to say hello to us.

Hello. I hope you know how loved you are, how loved you have been from the exact moment that divinely-commanded spirit blew Life into you.

When life gets heavy, know that I am here. I cannot physically carry you any more, no,

But you must know this:

red-faced newborn you is a picture that is forever emblazoned into my memory.

And I know it very well – the face you make when there is something in you that needs to be said; when, in absolute silence, you find yourself kicking the air, trying to shriek from the top of your lungs,

trying to let something, whatever it is, be known.


Sadia Ahmed, 2020

The Scenic Route

Dear friend, 

 

Two roads do diverge, at a certain point, in a yellow wood;

Do we take the one that calls out to us? Or do we take the one they all think we ‘should’?

 

Tie up your shoelaces; wrap up your headscarf: tonight and forever, may we always choose to take the scenic route.

Treacherous, at points, though the journey may be: may we battle all the elements, exhibit patience; the enchantment of the views will surely follow suit.

 

And it matters not how many have tread this path before us; it only matters that we commit to following our truths.

It matters not if we succumb to cliché, or if we are ‘different’; if we, at points, part with all considerations of rhyme,

For true beauty is not to be found in identical iterations, but in the order that can be found in utter chaos – if one chooses to look – to take the time.

 

Dear friend, 

 

You and I are not afraid of the dark, nor have we ever really been.

We surely have God to thank for this strength, and our own minds, and this, our wonderful Deen.

 

On the days when nothing at all is certain, the following things will undoubtedly call us home:

Darkness, the stars, Adhan, local mosque’s gold-and-blue panelled dome.

 

You are doing just fine, love. Even on the days when you struggle to get out of bed –

When meeting with the world again just doesn’t sound very enticing; when you would rather cease to exist instead.

And maybe depression will unfavourably make a bit of a comeback sometime soon; maybe the people will, again, simply not understand.

But this is the scenic route. [Like when, suddenly, in daytime, Hey, look! The moon!]: we have known its shores before, we have found ways to come to adore its sands.

 

Dear friend, 

 

Ideas of ‘smooth’ are quite boring; we were not made for that sort of life:

You take a slightly rotting apple, redefine it, give it new form through skilful use of carving knife.

We like the feel of friction, quickness, slowness, followed by the energy of a small breakthrough.

We are lovers of darkness and of light, of fields of yellow, and of oceans of blue –

alike. And as usual, it probably won’t make too much sense right now. These things only tend to truly come together

in retrospect.

 

Dear friend, 

 

The scenic route. Boots laced up, cloaked by the trees’ lowest branches. Rose-gold rings and splendid dark humour. And, Ameen, may we always be part of one another’s armour.

Sunglasses will decorate our eyes on some days; crystal tears, almost unstoppable, on others. But we rejoice in the fact that they are as much our own eyes on those latter days, as they were during the former.

Someday we will laugh at every single thing that did make us cry.

Standing atop mountains, the trail behind us, below us. It will all make sense: the why

 

Of every single heavy day; the shackles tied to our very minds,

All the twenty steps forwards, ten steps back. The feelings of progress; the unhappy rewinds.

 

My friend, you have always been, for me, an iron shield:

On the days when my mind felt like it was rotting; on the days when (in decay’s place) there were daisy fields.

 

And you and I belong right there – upon the scenic route.

On some days, our branches shall be cold and bare; on other days, we will bear much fruit.

 

But each day will be beautiful. Never boring – whether happy, empty, or melancholy,

I have been blessed: part of my armour is you, and the more fragmented landscape doth beckon me –

 

Moorlands, forests, and indented shores,

Peaks, and troughs, and muddiness galore!

And it need not be smoothened at all, not now, not ever:

It is we who must learn how to climb: in every season, amidst unfiltered sun, and right through gorgeous rainy weather.

 

Tapestry

-.-.-.-.

Well, at least according to good friend Art:

when new life is being made,

It looks quite like long strands of nylon coming together, and falling apart.

 

It swims through linen: a thousand pats on the back, an arrowhead stitch,

Whereby needle soars through well-considered criss-cross,

Counts its own cotton count, and considers itself to be rather rich.

 

Oh, and it is knotted, over and again, blood clot, knot, the finite levels of ink in a pen.

All this, at the site of fledgling tapestry’s very own embroidered hem –

and at the very place where its time will surely arrive at its end. –

See, though you revel now, in all your own intricacies, in your happening-to-be made of the finest polyester blends:

 

[Take heed of this warning, young crimson line:]

 

Be careful with which other threads you entangle yourself, for at a certain point, you will surely find:

That there was only so much space for you here, to begin with, even amid spacious circular hoop.

So be courteous to fellow diamond knots, and be wise with which archways you choose to loop.

 

Now, for this one, I have chosen to use warm colours, autumnal hues.

Should I have, instead, chosen the palette of spring – with all her pinks, and all her blues?

No, I choose autumn. Her gentle fury,

her warmth,

her gorgeous wrath.

 

Yes. for in the leaves’ least beloved season, nature doth make art of time running out, and then:

Life that finds itself dying, decaying, shows hope of waiting, willing, to begin itself again.

 

Needle glides gleefully, and with victory, through eye.

But look a little closer; see all the frayed ends. Know that, to get here, it did take a few disgruntled tries.

 

Ten times already autumnal tapestry has pricked my thumb.

But, regardless, we do go on. an invisible thimble: my fingers, at this point, are already numb.

Needle sinks beneath satin surface once again, then comes right back up for air.

Twenty minutes later, fabric blankness is replaced by pine trees. Back stitch. Now there are daisies everywhere. 

 

Very soon, dear thread, you will meet your knot – the end,

For now, however, you have been given permission to continue to lose yourself, over and over again.

But know that, one day, the hoop will be lifted. Worm’s meat shall be made of me, and

 

Domestic cushions – pretty, silent – of you.

But in the meantime, fear not, fair needle – you are almost invincible.

A deluded thought, and yet at least somewhat true.

 

For now, almost-done tapestry, may you find beauty in it – in loss, and in wonder,

And fear not the little sewing scissors, that, someday, almost effortlessly, will

cast thee and all thy silky threads asunder.

It will wrap itself over and again, around your heart.

running stitch and

catch up with you. It will tear you apart.

-.-.-

One Day, My Friend

One day, my friend,

Big arching windows will be made of what now, to us, may look like walls.

And you, I can promise you this much, will forget to even think of it all.

 

The very air around you will taste somewhat sweeter –

Less heavy, less hostile, and way more like home.

And I promise you, my friend, for as long as the two of us are alive, you will never be alone.

 

The sky’s blue will look that little bit more alive,

Oh, everything around you will sing songs out of that never-ending glint in your eye.

 

It will invite you outside, away from the nest of thoughts that burrow themselves in your head:

But you will forget to think of him, or of her; you will think of all present gifts instead.

 

One day, my friend, as you will ‘most certainly find,

After setting, all suns do rise, and when they do, they know to leave all considerations of dusk behind.

 

Perhaps today is not that day; perhaps it will not be tomorrow, nor was it yesterday.

But in this reality, at least, things do not have a habit of staying still: each and every single thing finds a way –

 

To adapt; to expand; to exert God-given will – to break free from comfortable albeit constrictive shell.

One day, my friend, pretty campfires will be made from what now feels quite like walking bare-bodied through hell.

 

We will build our stories around it, toast marshmallows when night comes, speak fondly of all these times that felt, when they were here, so very dark.

One day, my friend, we will sweeten our tea with long-gone memories; the past will be recalled with ease, over a walk in the park.

 

Yellows, Blues

Smells exactly like dystopia.

 

Like singular beams of sunshine, washing emptied train carriages through and through.

 

And it looks rather like euphoria,

Like sunflowers left in the sink, bathing in undisturbed beauty, as yellow petals tend to do.

 

Feels like a string of subtle reminders that we are only human,

Like an accidental bite into a chilli pepper, a sneeze, a magnificent little blush too.

 

Then it smells like dystopia all over again,

Like our bloodstreams bleeding out their mistakes, ink falling in water –

Slow contamination through and through.

 

Tastes like the first glance one may get of oneself in an emptying humid room,

Like doing away with all hot air, and leaving behind solely what is true.

 

Sounds, yet again, like people being alone, self-isolated, in enchanted castle-top rooms,

Like crisis, and panic-buying; like headstrong and selfish humans who haven’t got even the slightest of clues.

 

And in all this wit and madness, it certainly feels like real happy poetic inspirations are few;

Like we’re all constantly falling, gliding, sort of doing what only humans can properly, meaningfully, do.

 

But you will read this poem, in ten years’ time, perhaps; we will have survived it, through every single starry night, through the yellows; through the blues.

And yes, sunflower person: out of order and within chaos, this poem was written specifically for you.

Know thy Lord

Inspired by this spoken word poem:


 

Have you ever looked up at the stars and pondered upon how small we are?

And then, have you ever looked at your hands and thought about awesome we are, as beings?

From the macro to the micro, we must know,

That it was He who had fashioned us;

That everything came not from none; no, verily, we all came from One.

And it is He who sustains we –

From the atoms, almost unseen, bouncing around,

To our cells, our consciousness, and everything in between –

Within every single thing it might take for a human to be.

 

Know thy Lord, and know Him to the best of your ability.

Know Him from every single angle you can; why don’t we begin with some biology:

He put together the very tips of our finger-tips, and made them each distinct,

Made us from water, encased in cells, little spherical miracles that only become life when perfectly linked.

 

And what about maths? What does a Muslim mathematician know about Him up there?

Golden ratios, finely tuned universe, perfectly designed, but where –

is He?

 

Well, Physics teaches us that we find ourselves bound by height, width, depth and time –

the four dimensions, 

But Allah created them; is not bound by them, and oh, I should really mention –

 

For all you English Literature lovers here,

That the Qur’an is a linguistic miracle, and nothing comes even remotely near to it,

 

And if, like me, you are into Philosophy,

Allah: He is the Unmoved Mover,

Al-Awwal Al-Ākhir – the first and the last –

The ultimate and original source of all that is, and will be,

And all that has ever been,

Lord of the prophets, of the angels, and of the Unseen.

The master, the King, the most high.

Lord of every atom, Lord of the cosmos and the skies,

Lord of her and of him and of you and of I.

 

So, it is incumbent on us to reflect on the world; to study it and explore it

Though our curiosities will never be satisfied.

 

But isn’t it amazing – the nature of the human, of the trees, and how the moon controls the tide?

And isn’t it amazing that we are given so many chances, every day, to speak to Him directly?

Call upon Him, sincerely, and He will surely respond.

Ar-Rahman, Ar-Raheem, and in His mercy,

He offers each and every soul the chance to have and to maintain a divine bond.


Sadia Ahmed, 2020