gaslight

this one’s for all the times
i’ve ever been told
it was never personal
they’re just like that

that it was all in my head
a vivid imagination
against my own better
judgement

that i’m just too sensitive
or overthinking it
i’m sure they didn’t mean
what they said

the good news
is that these flash burns
on my skin
from your gaslight
are starting to heal

but it’s still happening
and no
it’s not all in my head
and yes, it is personal

some call it islamophobia
others call it hatred
or bigotry

but i don’t care
what you call it

because
for me
it’s

1.

staring down
the barrel of a makeshift gun
made of trigger fingers
from a passing vehicle

a violent gesture
with a cautionary tale
that says
i’d rather have you dead
than to see you alive

2.

it’s the pickup truck
barrelling down the road
towards us

as we scurry across
barely making it to safety
his middle finger waving
warning

3.

it’s creeping shadows
that follow
our every footstep
during our evening stroll

harassing stalker
greets us
with bible thumping
verbal venom

4.

it’s taking one glance
at me
and assuming that my name
won’t fit the contours of your mouth

this shade too dark
this clothing too veiled
this face too foreign

my presence too much
for you
to comprehend

how this muslim body
could be volunteering
her time
at this soup kitchen

and still i disintegrate
crumbling into a hollow shell
before those very words

5.

it’s the vandalized brick walls
of family businesses
and defaced exteriors
of our masjids

an act to intimidate
to strike terror in hearts
that beat on

an ugly reminder that
we do not
belong here

6.

it’s—
ma’am,
you’ve been “randomly” selected
for a secondary screening
follow me

and i follow

7.

it’s quebec city
and christchurch
and chapel hill

it’s deah
yusor
and razan

it’s 6 dead
it’s 51 dead
it’s 3 generations
dead

i remember exactly where i was
that one fateful night
ran downstairs in a panic

saw my brothers
my father
my uncles
on the evening news

and touched their faces
to make sure
they were still here

8.

it’s
opportunist politicians
offering their thoughts
and prayers

when all i see
are crocodile tears
and class a theatrics

the irony is not
lost on me
they are part of the
problem too

yet they won’t even
leave us in peace
to grieve our dead

9.

it’s
what’s the word for
not feeling safe in your own home?

it’s
i found the word
but what difference does it make?

10.

it’s
i’ve lost count at this point
but honestly,
i was never really good with numbers
anyway.

lh
june 2021

streets & sidewalks

memorial honouring the killing of the afzaal family at the crime scene in london, ontario (photography by ian willms)

i’ve walked these streets
a million times before
these sidewalks 
house cracks so deep

they break the backs of mothers
who worry about their sons
every time they exit the front door

send them off
into battlefields
drafted for a war
they did not ask for 

little boys with beautiful brown skin
blossom into men 
with beards 
labelled terrorist 

i’ve walked these streets
with my mother in arm
a million times before 

her crown 
call it her hijab 
adorns the profile of her face
bold and dazzling as she

these sidewalks 
house cracks so deep

i step over them 
to show her that we too deserve 
to land on solid ground 

grew accustomed to 
the disregard 
for the way you 
take up space

and memorized 
glares and scowls 
like the back of my hand 
from menacing eyes 

that take aim 
darting pellets
like target practice 

i walk these streets 
now 
and my body seizes up 
with every passing vehicle 

i walk these streets
now
and wonder about the 9 year old child
orphaned into nightmare

i walk these streets 
now 
and wonder about
how that could have been me

wonder about 
how that could have easily
been us

these sidewalks 
house cracks so deep
they do not falter

inside these four walls 
where grief has made a home 
i am reminded that our faith

too

does not falter
unapologetic 
and resolute as we are 

i will continue to walk these streets
a million more times 
until these sidewalks 
graciously absorb my every step

i will continue to walk these streets 
with arms spread wide 
and take up the space 
i’ve always deserved 

i will continue to walk these streets
undeterred 
until these sidewalks 

house dandelions that bloom 
from between 
cracks 

flowers 
bright and yellow
flowers 

they greet me 
with signs of the seasons

rumor 
change is not only coming 
it’s already on its way. 

for fayez afzaal 

lh
june 2021

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