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.

 

Prayer mats.

Water beads fall, ice-cold, from your washed limbs, as you bend, stand, and then prostrate, shrink yourself in submission to that which you cannot see, like a butterfly returning to the safety of its cocoon,

newly baptised.

There is an inexplicable ring of certainty to this: the feeling of your nose, pressed against the purple velvet – of knowing exactly which words to utter next, even if their meaning is preserved, lost, to you, in Arabic,

and of your fingertips brushing through the fibres, as the heaviness of being momentarily flows out of you. There is an unmistakeable solidity in these rituals; there is even an unmistakeable solidity in faith: a presence, you will find, but it is not quite touchable.

Prayer mats come in various shapes and sizes: some have glittered edges, embroidered minarets, colours – the entire spectrum. Others are more austere – black and white and a space on which to place your head, and block-coloured borders adorned with little spirals.

Spirals. Conversations do not always require two audible participants. You whisper prayers, let the vibrations exit your throat, let those vibrations pass themselves on, spiralling, losing their intensity over little compressions of time.

You can sit, rocking rhythmically, spiralling, passing prayer beads through numb, cold hands, hopeless and yet suspended above imagined flickers, clinging onto every last bead of hope.

These conversations are the ones that take insomnia and turn it into trances of worship, like water into wine. Spiritual beggary into quiet wealth – mastery – into rugged harmony between ink and blankness. Where pen nib meets paper, where forehead meets floor, this is where the lost find themselves when they wish, rather desperately, to be found.

Pieces of paper, you will find, are prayers, and all prayers are inherently pieces of paper, written on, all over. With our gratitude, and with our woes. With all that we are certain of; with all that we do not, at present, know.

We close our eyes and allow words – sometimes our own, often anything but– to spill from us, spiral, catch pain and hope beneath their wings, rise and fall, bow and prostrate, and then when we are done, in satisfaction amid restlessness, we seal our letters,

breathing life into endless sighs of amen.


Sadia Ahmed, 2019

Doors

Before you leave,

I ask you to pray for me.

I want to tell you that

I have lost the courage to do so myself.

 

But my words come out too late:

You have now left and

I watch as you close the door behind you.

I look out for any signs of regret, but find that

There are none.

 

Perhaps it has simply escaped you that

Opening doors has never quite been my forte.

My ears have come to welcome the sound of another one closed:

A latch, a key, and a newfound sense of security.

 

But all freedoms, I find, are quite temporary.

 

And sometimes, I must admit…

These walls give me certainty,

In a way that nothing else can.

 

I experience the world through these windows,

Behind the false security of glass panes,

Like little sheets of fragile invincibility.

 

This space

that seems to confine me,

I have grown into it – I have made it my own

and become empress of these sands of time

that have tried to engulf me.

I forgive them; I only want for them

To love me back.

 

All this space and all this time,

They force me to swim through the murky waters

Of my own mind.

 

But I have chosen to call this bathing,

not drowning.

And, being me, I know that, somehow,

 

I will find a new door,

I will find a new way to breathe. 


Sadia Ahmed, 2018

Nowhere and Everywhere

If you asked me where I come from, I would tell you:

I come from a place where mangoes are not a myth,

Where people walk without shoes,

Even when the sun is the only thing in the sky,

Caressed by a continuous cerulean blanket,

And even when the invading clouds become angry.

 

I come from a place where tea is drunk in copious amounts,

Where children spread the wings they do not have,

Where fingers are stained with henna and stories and secrets,

Where curry is the national dish,

And believe me, when I say that curry burns through my veins,

But don’t worry- I don’t mean the type that causes heart disease.

 

I am the product of sugar and spice,

Of curry and samosas and rice,

Of colours and jewels that indicate infinity,

Of heavy accents and songs about silence.

Of being, but never quite belonging.

 

Look at me.

I am writing love letters to a country I have only visited twice.

A country that is oblivious to my existence,

A country I am infatuated with the idea of,

The idea of belonging somewhere in the correct way,

And having the right skin tone and features to show for it.

 

You see, I am the daughter of two worlds, and both are jungles.

One is replete with coconut trees and charming waterfalls,

Little secrets hidden behind rolling hills,

Uncorrupted by the filthy hands of man.

The other world is bustling and the economy is booming

And prosperity is a thing now.

Time flies and houses are tall,

And fishing isn’t the preferred pastime there: making money is.

 

If you asked me where I come from, I would tell you:

I come from somewhere that is imperfect,

Where some of the pieces are in the wrong places,

And some of them are nowhere to be seen.

But the grass is still green beneath our feet,

And love roams free, and I know that peace will reign triumphant.

I come from a place where there is beauty to be seen-

Beauty that succeeds in drowning out the bloodshed.

 

You see, if you asked me where I come from, I would tell you:

I am the daughter of kings and peasants,

Of prophets and criminals,

Of storytellers and poets.

My story is your story too.

We are relics of the past and promises of the future,

We are children of here and there,

and nowhere and

 

everywhere.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Eulogy for a Girl I once knew

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that corpses once had colour in them, too.

When you see them, you are reminded only of death- of poignant endings, and pain, and longing. You think of the spaces they once filled, the people, the things, they left behind. But you rarely ever remember the tinges of colour in their skin. In your mind, the memories you hold of them will become tarnished, distorted by the image of a pallid face, unperturbed by the woes of this world, relishing in an eternal slumber.

Rest in peace.

I am mourning for a girl I once knew. Her eyes were bright and filled with hope, her entire body a crevice filled with laughter. She convinced herself that all troubles were temporary, that permanence lay only in peace. She was untouched by cynicism and suspicion; flowers were the only things that grew on the sturdy bridges between each of her synapses.

But slowly, it seemed that they began to shrivel up and retreat into the darkness. It became tiring, keeping up with the urban cacophony of the world- of kind acts unreturned, and good intentions taken for granted.

Rest in peace.

I am mourning for the girl whose face once belonged to me, before she was moulded by sharp words and regrettable experiences- they suffocated the girl that I once knew, until, eventually, she collapsed into herself.

Rest in peace.

They made me mourn for a former version of myself, and now I am growing further into this surviving scripture of my soul, torn mercilessly away from the other, existing as an echo of its own past, evidence of a melody that has long since faded.

Sometimes it is hard, and I long to have her back. I dig away at the dirt, searching, searching, but the loose granules of soil sift through my fingertips like water.

Now all I can do is sit here, reciting a eulogy, to a part of me that has, for a long time now, ceased to exist.

Rest in peace.

And when you wake up, I will be waiting here to greet you like an old friend.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

A Target in the Distance

This poem is dedicated to anyone who has been judged and belittled by people who do not even know the first thing about you.

I am a target in the distance,

Withstanding the westward winds of change.

My existence welcomes bullets of scorn,

Daggers of endless criticism,

Accusations of being ‘too full of myself’,

By people who cannot see how empty I am.

Take a step closer.

 

When I speak, you will notice,

How my words shake.

How my knees shake, how not a single element of my being is not

Shaking

 

I am a hurricane.

 

And you are not my enemy, for my enemy lies within me-

In my thoughts, in my past, in my appearance

On familiar terrain,

A no man’s land smothered with footprints

A dry drought land that finds itself drowning in rain.

 

You see, my opposition is on the same side as me,

And you are just a cinematic technique-

You are an actor, giving a face to the cacophonies within my mind,

A special effect, giving a voice to the monster that breaks me from the inside.

I do not need you, or your words, or your approval.

You are a mere supporting character,

And yet the only support you offer is made of brittle strings

Which falter and snap as soon as my head is turned

And as I run my hands through them, they asphyxiate me.

 

In my presence, you say you love me, and then the irony fades

And we return back to reality:

Where I am a target in the distance,

And you are my attacker.

 

But the next time you accuse me of being “too serious” or “arrogant” or “a bitch”,

I’ll turn around, and with a glint of gratitude in my eye, I will say,

 

“Thank you,”

“Thank you very much”.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Where Youth and Laughter Go

This poem is about the inherent folly of war.


From fighting for  my country, I have learnt

That bombs fall like raindrops,

But so do tears. So does vomit. So does blood.

And the human ego is so

Fragile, yet indestructible.

It finds itself woven subtly

Into uniforms, weapons and empty pledges of empty allegiance.

Looking up at the sooty, dust-filled sky,

I thought it was almost beautiful

How one person flying overhead,

Holds in his hands the limitless power to kill,

To destruct and destroy,

To take our lives and wipe our sins away

And compete against infinity.

Every bullet that slices through the air like a shooting star

Holds the power to slice through a heart,

To bring a man down to his knees and breathe

His very last breath.

To orphan a child, to widow a wife,

To extinguish a thousand hopes, dreams and fears,

To steal a life.

Because war makes us feel powerful- immortal- like gods.

But it reduces men to nothing- to ghosts, not gods, hiding in their own ribcages,

Unsure of what to do-

It’s almost beautiful how men cry too.

In a life where love is the only war we’ve yet to wage,

Where men sit in shallow trenches- shallow graves,

Praying- begging- to see their loved ones again.

They don’t have time to see the irony of it all:

They demolish cities and wreck livelihoods

While they yearn for the comfort of their own families.

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori,

Show me where it hurts, and listen carefully:

Listen to how gunshots sound like heartbeats in the distance,

See how the blood that flows whimsically through the veins of the Earth

Has no name, no nation, no personality;

They are fluids of cowardice and terror, of tenderness and humanity.

We are just children, pretending to be men, and I long

To be held again.

To lay roses over the eternal tombs of the fallen, but there are no roses left-

Only shrapnel and shells of men, hollow and bereft.

Slovenly, we shoot for the moon, for the stars, for love, for peace.

But we all end up in the hell

Where youth and laughter go.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

#TwoMinutePoetryChallenge

I wrote this poem in the space of two minutes and I challenge my readers to do the same.


Look outside.

Are the clouds weeping? Do they share my sorrow?

Or does the world simply go on?

Did the sun rise today? Did the winds still blow?

Did time just carry on as though

Everything is okay?

Did the birds sing this morning? I would not know,

For their symphonies continue to be cancelled out by my desire to hear nothing.

Tell me: did the trees sway in the breeze today? Did they notify you of their reluctance to bear fruit at this hour?

Why must we wait for things? Why do we challenge ourselves to wait to escape?

Patience reflects delusion and a false sense of

Immortality.

Are we all just kidding ourselves?

We are all just kidding ourselves.

Look outside. The clouds are weeping, but they do not share my sorrow.

I am here, encapsulated in a universe that is neither happy nor sad, yet here I am,

Embodying (compensating for)  its lack of happiness and sadness,

All at once.

Like how the clouds gush tears of neutrality, I cry tears of happiness, sadness

and everything in between.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2016