Flecks

My father’s hands
sun burnt to crisp blood brightening wrinkled grooves
curve round rough calluses
converge into dirt covered fingernail beds
sprinkle flecks of Earth onto its origins
as he turns the door knob and enters inside.

My father reaches to lift me from my armpits into the air
strategically spins my body
more thrilling than any existent or imagined amusement park ride.
Quien es mi superman? El mas fuerte?
I do not know this yet – not yet.

Father’s hands pull and weed and grind into the Earth
back arched rapidamente
mouth parched, skin stinging
sun sets, upset.

Father arranges his bushel
no es sufficiente 
hands thin in pocket, tread home
loose change for 14 hour labor
Mama got a better exchange for her sew.

My father’s hands
return the next day and no rest day
weak and
month years and ears
picked off their bright stocks to fill his bushel of bliss.

See those vegetables scaled
see those vegetables sold to the contractor
see those vegetables stacked onto crates
frozen, compartmentalized into Tetris trucks.

See those vegetables shelved in a rundown grocery store
holes in the ceiling, whole foods antithesis
single mother with a list
works 3 jobs but somehow earns an excess to eat with EBT
she moves her whole self to frozen potatoes – friends of the frying pan
tricked into saving
her children bleed fat in their nativity
undernourished uninsured,
she pays outta cash.

See those vegetables chopped and sautéed and sprinkled
onto an $80 plate carried, waited wastefully
she takes a taste “tastes bland take it away”
shame in this Italian restaurant downtown by the pier
in the exterior
huddled homeless rush to the freshly tossed trash.

See those vegetables fat stacked in my backpack
wet lettuce bulging from the fast food plantation.
See those vegetables home cooked by my mother
quick toss the other
wipes the smell of grease
kiss he plants on her cheek
my father leads her to table
abuelos are waiting.

My father’s hands
sun burnt to crisp blood brightening wrinkled grooves
curve round rough calluses
converge into dirt covered fingernail beds
sprinkle flecks of Earth onto its origins
are hands that nurture, care for, feed, supply.

You eat off my father’s hands
the image disgusts you.

See my father’s hands cuffed together
firmly with a tight grip
no air passing through
Hands dragged by the officer
Fingers prodded apart – ink smeared, scanner pressed.
Father in the cell
until he hears a call
a tray of measly potatoes, a burnt meat loaf, a multibillion dollar prison indusry and vegetables.
My father takes the plastic fork and digs into the food
snaps into two
he takes those hands digs into his fucking vegetables
licking every finger from core to nail guard stares widely
amused by his dog

My father’s lips dried in fear
my father’s mouth – closed
cannot communicate cannot comprehend
the words to respond, the lawyer to request, the mother to confess.
My father’s eyes
well up as the van moves farther and farther away from home.
My father’s heart pumps blood faster and faster and bleeds.

My father’s hands
sun burnt to crisp blood brightening wrinkled grooves
curve round rough calluses
converge into dirt covered fingernail beds
sprinkle flecks of Earth onto its origins
fall to the ground
clasp the dirt unbalanced
pass through the gate abandoned.

You will still be fed.
$ menu funded, prison industrial complex fueled
restaurant receives a 5 star review homeless will sustain,
impoverished still feed hospital bills.

I am fed.

Another father’s hands
strong veins piercing with hope and warmth and dreams and relief
hands with potential, to work for
drop to the ground
clasp the dirt catches his balance through a hole in the fence
and heads to the fields of promise he has long yearned for.

-S.K.

Poetry: The Box

I’ve come up with a plan

I will write down everything I’ve naturally felt for you
And everything I’ve sacrificially dealt for you
And everything I’ve ever selfishly wanted for you
And everything I’ve ever foolishly imagined for us

Insane, right?

Then I will slip those tear-stained love-stained parchments of paper into a box
I’ll chain up those emotions
Carrying the beautiful burden to the ocean
Bury it under the heavy roughness of the sands
Over time my papered words will disintegrate
As waves crash and shake
Children born from love shovel up the sand
Towering castles topple as happy dogs kick up a quake
Real lovers frolic the shore, dipping their toes into petite pebbles
People carve their dreams, gratitude, wishes, remembrances and names
With gentle strokes and streaks into the sandy grains
Little knowing what lies beneath them

The box of everything . . .

No, what once was everything
Is now darkness

No future for us
Just salty dust.

-S.K.

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Op-Ed: Cultured Clothing

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We make a deliberate choice every day when we decide to wear a certain color, pattern, design or outfit. I found myself looking down the window ten stories below at Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, full of tourists, accountants, homeless, luxury shoppers, students, Uber drivers, construction workers and police officers who paraded up and down ignoring traffic signals and vehicles. In my luggage, I had packed a T-Shirt from a clothing company my sister’s fiance created as a hobby. Fine Seam designs urban clothing inspired by Afghanistan.

Ironically, as I closed the curtains of my hotel window and removed my “unity shirt” it was only a feeling of divisiveness that seeped through my body. My shirt displays the words North, South, East, and West in Dari (an Afghan language) letters. The itinerary for the day included stopping at the Bean, going up the John Hancock Tower, and exploring Navy Pier in time for the 100th year anniversary fireworks. Yet, I feared the unnecessary stares and plausibility of being stopped because of the calligraphy on my chest and changed my outfit.

Traveling helps me become a better writer, it helps me become a better teacher, and it allows me to have an educated and empathetic mindset in my life. But how can you feel comfortable exploring different places when you have a fear instilled in you? When you are a Muslim who travels to public landmarks around the world you need to pay attention to how you display yourself, the words you choose to utter, and the clothing you wear. I have it much easier to explore the world because of my physical appearance and the color of my passport, but this does not make it any more upsetting nor creates blinders to what is occurring today.

This may seem like a trivial situation – why even wear anything that could be perceived in the wrong way? Anti-Islamic sentiments are high and it is justifiable that people are on edge, so we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves, right? If I am hesitant to wear a T-Shirt in a new city, what could possibly be happening to other Muslims who have physical characteristics or traits that mainstream media defines as Muslim: the Hijab, a long beard, or a throbe? I am using this platform to draw attention to the real, violent and hateful acts of Islamophobia that have been committed against my community.

The FBI has reported an increase in only one category of hate crimes this year, those against Muslim Americans “up 78 percent over the course of 2015” and the highest amount since 9/11 (New York Times). This excludes the thousands of anti-Muslim hate crimes that are never reported and the incidents the police elect not to categorize as a “hate crime”.

These are just a few that have rattled me personally over the years:

There are too many crimes to even compile and it would require a blog of its own! Islamophobia is everywhere. It is in our schools, at our dinner table conversations, in the workplace, and most hauntingly through the rhetoric of social media. It is not only an American problem. The hatred and ignorance fuels crimes in England, France, Canada and more. We have arrived at a state where there is a need to hide your religion when religious freedom was the basis of this country. CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) has created a project aimed to educate others on Islamophobia and is building a positive movement towards combatting this prejudice.

You may wonder if the person writing this post is “Moderate” then. Hopefully not “radical”. I am neither. I am just Muslim. I am Muslim American. I am Muslim and a woman. I am a human being. My degree and level of religiosity is not for Fox News to condemn or for myself to rank for others. It is a relationship between myself and God. I pray privately in my bedroom but there are moments when I’m in public during a prayer time and find myself sitting in my car, with a scarf on, my eyes closed, in prayer, my mind focused not entirely on God as it should be, but on whether someone can see me through the window at this parking lot and will throw a brick through the glass. This is not a new feeling. People travel with their Bible all the time and four years ago when I was packing to study abroad in London, I wanted to place a small Quran in my luggage. My mother removed it because she was afraid I would be treated unfairly by the TSA and risk getting my student visa stamped. My sister has an even more difficult time. The “place of birth” on her passport is Kabul, Afghanistan which has once led to a six-hour detainment by the Israeli military when she traveled to Jerusalem for a business trip.

During my travels, I do see rays of hope. I was roaming the streets of Dublin, Ireland last summer and it happened to be Eid Al Fitr (a Muslim holiday) that day. The Ha’Penny Bridge was full of hijabi women pushing their strollers, Irish Muslims of African and Asian descent parading downtown for the holiday and greeting their fellow Dubliners. And just a couple of months ago I was in beautiful Boston. On my walk near the public library, I came across a church with a banner hanging from one end of its rooftop stating “Love thy Muslim neighbor as thyself.”img_9480

Love is possible if our communities do come together, educate each other, and uplift one another from the paranoia and the fear of otherness.

As for Fine Seam, I continue to wear its gear in the comfort of the Bay Area, even at public landmarks.

-S.K.

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Poetry: a place

ask 

how can I be in love with a land I have never stepped upon
a land I have obsessed over since the first breath I have taken

how can you not be infatuated with a place that created your essence?
a place that brought your mother and father together, passionately as one
a place the bleeds for thousands of years under the footprints of every invader who raped
a place that bears witness to the strength of your people who may be scattered,
scarred, but will never give into fear

how can you be dying to enter a hole that every man, woman, and child
is living to crawl out of
through feet, feral, trucks, broken boats, seas, smugglers, and more?

how can I not be madly in love with a place
of phantom pain
whose inheritance is a soothing ache from
never feeling the wet dust or dry tears,
and touching her,
raw and unclothed?

-S.K.

Poetry: Sustenance

How do you sustain your day?

He plans to fill himself with water and prayer
each dawn, but he sleeps in
missing
fajr, when a suicide bomber, strikes the mosque across the ocean.
The train is impatient for the spiritual
so he packs his iStuff instead, swiping away the push notification
azaan, unheard, he walks into the hallway of this temporary earth.

She begins with coffee, black, please
and finishes it in sips of three.
First – to forget the night that has past, sprawled on her back, under cruelty
sip two – a tear slips to cool the scalding roast
the final chug – the paper cup she cannot crush because it is the essence of the cycle.
This very cup bought from the coins the previous one filled
empties quickly, self-inflicting singe.

They scramble early
fat free milk is more expensive, scratching their itchy eyes,
they douse their Fruit Loops with floating growth hormones.
They didn’t finish reading
but their bodies carve enough letters to publish a lifetime
of sorry, if they get called on in class to discuss
they plan to lie, again.

For me, each alarm rings in a new poem
I choose the night before so lethargy does not succeed
sustaining breakfast with an apparent literary genius
thinking the written text will suffice

. . .  every passenger is at unease by his beard which I admire
my foot almost knocks over her cardboard invitation
they jay walk, and I run behind, protected by small humans in traffic ahead . . .

I go hungry
naive in a facade of selfishly published poetry
because I know the sufferers of the real world
are the ones who breathe the truest mixtures of words
waiting for the right ones
Who will listen?

-S.K.

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Travel Musings: Lost in Libraries 

Every library I visit during my travels reminds me of my mother. The countless days we’d walk over to our local library, plastic Food Max bags filled to its handles with  books. She educated her children in a country that never recognized her as its own blood, despite how much she bled on its grounds. I spend every moment questioning how to heal her wounds. So I write each day, hoping letters, ink, keystrokes, and pages can cure the anguish that seeps through her veins. One day, it will.

-S.K.

 

Poetry: Awakening

They say a writer who waits for the ideal conditions to work
dies without putting a word on paper
There is something dying everyday inside of me
Because I can’t stop the clock to write these ideas
like a blight to me.

My soul is seared
Can’t fix my life
like I fixate on words
craving a fix of paper and pen
Ten months since I’ve bled a poem.

Writing is the only true home
sinking with the rest of the world
need to forget society.                                                                                                                                      

I know I’ve disappointed that part of me
for having not achieved what she yearned
for me to achieve
Yet still I know there is an older, wiser me
anticipating for me to change my indolent
course of action
stuck in a timeless mirror contraption.

Break her out
the only weapons are my words
So write for her
Because my heart cannot conceive to deceive my own again. 

-S.K.

Op-Ed: What is Travel Writing?

Deep into the summer, everybody aspires to be a wanderlust travel blogger or social media poser. In a period when Snapchat hires individuals to travel the world and story every second of their trip, when Yelp and Tripadvisor must be used to vet any potential eatery or resting place, and the question of Would you still go there even if you could never post about it on Instagram? stumps young people everywhere, the concept of travel writing is even more confusing than before.

As a student, I read travel writing in the works of Bill Bryson, Henry David Thoreau, and Jon Krakauer. Some of the earliest travel writers were colonialists, painting their persecutory picture of new cultures. Some of the most recent travel writers have employed the “off the grid” lifestyle a la Eat, Pray, Love and On the Road. 

Travel writing is a genre of writing and literature that covers an array of categories: time, location, geography, emotion, physicality, reality, and imagination. It can never be truly objective, thus it is always subjective in experience, as reflected in an author’s voice and choice of what to include, which direction to take, and how to convey his or her experience to an audience. Travel writing is peculiar because it is very free in form. It can be fiction, autobiographical, poetry, prose, private, social and digital. The goal of travel writing is not to elicit emotion, because anything and everything elicits emotions, thus writing itself cannot be credited to that experience.

Travel writing is historic, artistic, political, sociological, and has become more relevant in the past decades as globalization has connected the world on such strong, close-knit levels through the influx of technology and mass communication. This genre helps us get closer to those great existential questions – finding out who we are, where we came from, and figuring out this grand world that we live in.

Thus, travel writing can be everything and everything can be travel writing. The key here is that travel writing does not have a definitive definition. Humans walk, wander, travel, and explore by means of physical traits and natural curiosity.

We are all travelers.

Travel Writing is merely one of the ways to capture these human environments and preserve it.

Travel writing is preservation.

– S.K.


Follow a fellow blogger, Brian Galetto’s Happy Friday Everday, to read his own experimentation with travel writing through his “City Series” posts.

Poetry: Human Flight

Did you know that in ancient times, all humans once knew how to fly?

Time, guilt, selfishness, anger, and fear over thousands of years caused us to evolve into creatures who no longer fly … except for a select few individuals who still believe in the impossible. Still, many do not notice that children are all born with wings. The adults around them who still possess the secret skill of flight must teach them how to best use these wings.

Otherwise, children will remain caged, their wings susceptible to damage, their hopes of something beyond the ordinary ground-level-world relinquished. Some children grow up with their wings set beside them, ripped apart by sadness, confusion, or great force, as they or the adults around them only saw the wings as an abnormality or nuisance that could not be tolerated and needed removal.

Never underestimate the influence of a caring adult who mends a child’s wings. And, if an adult is really lucky, sometimes it is the child who reminds him or her to pick up their weathered, tossed aside wings, and believe in their rusted dreams once again.

Now, imagine a world where we all learned to fly . . . Together, we could find our humanity again.

-S.K.