Tarfia Faizullah




The handles attached to the velvet pouch 
	they passed around that week in chapel were smooth-
worn. I wanted to put my hand in. It looked 
	soft. That soft. Noonlight filtered through Jesus, blue-

robed. The flames of lit candles unmoving. 
	Beside me the blond girl who had told another blond 
girl not to touch my hair. You'll get whatever 
	she has. Mother, after she picked me up from school, 

screaming: How could you give them $60? 
	My hand had reached into her purse that morning while
she slept. It looked easy. That easy. How could 
	you. So many poor people in our country. While I waited 

for the bus, I had folded those hand-softened bills 
	in the funnel of pre-dawn skylight. Ten years later, two tall 
towers staggering into the ground. Smoke and ash 
	the only light. Ten days later, boys in a pickup truck threw 

firecrackers onto the tennis court where I swung 
	my arm in hard, thin arcs. Go back to your own country! 
one of them screamed, red hair glossy in sunlight, 
	disappearing behind the sliding-up window. The pouch 

passed from hand to hand until I was the one 
	gripping the dark wooden handle. I reached 
in, released the bills into all that rough lining, 
	passed it to the girl beside me, her blond hair red in stained-

glass light. The one who had wanted to touch my hair. 
	It must have looked soft to her. That soft. Blacker still, 
in Jesus-stained light. Mother gray in fluorescent light, 
	shaking chopped onions and garlic into the sweating pot. 

The kitchen smoky, those spices simmering crimson. 
	The skylight pouring down all that white onto me.  All that 
money, wasted. Do you want to be like them, American? 
	Is that it? Go then. Go. Go. Yes. Back to all that softness.




1. in dreams you appear, a branch or an antler.

2. once we sat on a hotel room floor, inches apart.

3. there was an ashtray nearby.

4. the ashtray’s not important, but the gray night dusted on our fingertips.

5. I thought I heard you last night, but it was my own rustling.

6. I had to keep my eyes closed, I had to keep my eyes closed.

7. somewhere in Texas you are, for a moment, unaware.

8. leaving all of it behind.

9. petals of flowers I still haven’t swept up.

10. it’s not a metaphor for life, just murky water in a vase.

11. I sat behind you in a bar, I felt tender about the nape of your neck.

12. there was time before, and now there isn’t.

13. you said to me darkling, you said to me lambent.

14. but the sky was lightless.

15. the skin there, softer.

16. I never expected my own thinness.

17. the seams of myself, trembling.

18. I make myself wring out the ghosts.

19. I make myself hang them to dry.


TARFIA FAIZULLAH’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, Blackbird, The Massachusetts Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Kenyon Writers’ Workshop, and other honors. Her manuscript Seam was a finalist for the Alice James Beatrice Hawley Award and the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.


Read more work by Tarfia Faizullah:

Missouri Review
Passages North