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Love notes from my lineage: A poem about embracing identity

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MARCH 18, 2023

the sky is dark thunderous angry;
it revokes all permission for laughter. 
my hands tremble and my teeth chatter —
          my voice: lost

I spent so many years in this body 
redecorating and rebuilding; 
sent myself to the drawing board 

bloodstained lace, scarred skin, 
hair violently chopped off 

I talk too much for a girl, have too many opinions. 
why do I laugh so loud?

I’d cross the street and fantasize about 
sinking into the dark concrete 
melting away my skin —
and all the parts of me 
I hated 

in a perpetual war 
with myself. 

but the sky is sometimes clear,
and you can even hear the birds chirping:

the cold morning air mingling with scents of cardamom and star anise wakes me up; 
my nanu’s soft warm hands making gajorer halua
her fingers gracefully moving the stone back and forth across the carrots as she looks up, and smiles
          my khala uses Danish condensed milk; 
          my own twist adds cinnamon, and heavy cream 
the most priceless family heirlooms 
          are recipes

when I braid my hair and apply narikel tel
          the swift weaving of my fingers  
          in and out 
          — the movement of my ancestral muscle memory

I can’t imagine anything more powerful than a woman’s touch
creating: hurricanes, soft breeze, celestial explosions, auroras, monsoons

I contain the love of thousands 
for millennia someone fell in love with a variation of my face 

in my blood —
women who wrote and had honeyed laughter and hummed lullabies and songs of liberation 
and loved to swim and tied their hair with red ribbons and hated the rain and stayed up too late; 

some days I forget
and still shrink myself down 
	     to fit into boxed lines in the palms of hands 
	     I poke and prod and pull and tear 
	     until I am once again a beautiful bloody mess 

but how could I forget
every birthmark, every inexplicable habit —

love notes from my

sometimes the sky is dark thunderous angry;
as if it’s revoking all permission for laughter 

but today I hear myself giggle —
I’m reminded that I’m looking up at the same sky 
          as all those who came before me 
          and all those who will come after 

and as the sunlight breaks through the gray clouds
          I realize I do not need permission

          to make noise 

Contact Nishat Sheikh at 


MARCH 18, 2023