This piece was submitted by Tarfia Faizullah as part of the 2014 PEN World Voices Online Anthology

Tarfia Faizullah’s events: Reading from the Asian/Pacific American Avant-garde and What’s Your Muse?

What I Want is Simple

La terre est bleue comme un orange.

 -for Craig

Begin with the fuchsia dress
I wore the night the scent
of storm threaded the brief
wind gusting away its hem
from my thighs—begin
with this orange, moldy
in its yellow bowl by the window.
Days it has rested there,
glossy as a child after a summer
spent outside. Days I have
looked past it—to crumbling
brick walls of other buildings,
smoke from a chimney, engraved
for a moment on gray sky.
It bewilders me to have looked
at this piece of fruit without
seeing it grow its own blue
shroud. Now you, too, are
gone. In that photo, I am
a waist towards which black
hair spills. You smile towards
someone or something I can’t
see. I want back that night you
pulled me into your lap, insisted
I stay there. I want the elegant
hinge of your wrist, the way you
were always both body & bird.
The way you were never & always
listening. You were wearing
a green sweater. There is
so little to take back, receive,
give. There is, somewhere, your
green sweater. What I want is
simple: you, alive, like the day
we bought an orange like the one
I lift now from its bowl to throw
out. How many times I have looked
at the world and turned away.




The day an autumn orphan, and we yank roots
from Texas earth: onions, then tomatoes split open
by sun, insect, rain. This is still the one
gift we have in common: desire for bone
below flesh: excavated hedges laid bare, recalling
the loam we spring from, return to. Battered by blue

wind, you bend and pull, your blanched blue
shirt sweat-soaked, fingers wizened as ginger root
as they curl around aortas of garlic: recollections
of you always here between cloud-pungent openings
of ash trees, the love between us hard bone.
These days, you’re easy with me like one

of your patients—another girl who will have won
you over with a smile, questions about the blue-
tubed stethoscope you press against her heart, not bone
but rhythmic and radiant flesh. You’ll be gentle, root
in your labcoat pocket for a sweet she’ll open
after it’s closed into her palm. I still recall

nights no sweetness passed between us, but recall
each twilight you taught me to knit a wide, white net, one
of the only hollows unfreighted by her ghost. You open
the door, speak to me. I’m here, standing against blue
midnight, and now you see me. I swear, the roots
between us are intact, basilic as a vein of coral vine. Bone-

pale: color of her corpse in its narrow casket: bone-
pale: wet marrow of poplars in rain: recollection
of your other daughter flung from car to sky, an uncut root
between us. You are the man walking alone with one
amulet to guide you: a Qur’an, pages thumbed blue.
I’m alone in your kitchen, palming a tomato, opening

drawers for the sharpest blade to slice its red flesh open.
You are bent over a prayer mat, the horizon a thin bone
disappearing into the backyards of other families. Branch-blue,
my uncut valve the night I walked out of me away from you. Recall
that I left with only the name you gave me: the one
amulet guiding me through and back to you, its roots

ravined below the poplar you taught me to tend. Some roots we don’t
need to see. Open your palm. Recall my name, the only one I have.
Hold it steady, like each bone I wish you would forgive yourself for breaking.


Self-Portrait as Slinky

It’s true I wanted
             to be beautiful before
                         authentic. Say the word
                                     exotic. Say minority—

a coiled, dark curl
            a finger might wrap
                         itself in—the long
                                    staircase, and I was

the momentum
           of metal springs
                       descending down
                                   and down—say tension.

The long staircase,
            and I was a stacked series
                       of spheres fingertipped
                                  again into motion—say

taut, like a child
            who must please her
                        parents but doesn’t
                                     know how—a curl pulled

thin—I wanted to be
            a reckoning, to gather
                       into each day’s pale
                                   hands—that helpless

lurching forward
            in the dark—another
                        soaked black ringlet,
                                    that sudden halting—


You Ask Why Write About It Again

Because a child’s handprints are smudged
on cream and green walls, because the deaf

child cannot know the sounds of her own grief,
because sleep comes or does not come. The hand

pressed hard against the window does not want
to be the hand that lifts the pen again to write

the word sister, the word silence—the hand desires
blossoms, instead: white gardenias, whorls of pooled

wax. Because the blade held by the hand is still a blade
even when used for crushing and not cutting: dill,

cardamom, a bulb of garlic, pink and yellow pills.
Because we want to be hand and blade and window,

but are stains on walls instead—praise the lantern
mottled with dusk, the heft and shimmer of grief

unnamed but questioned. Praise the red leaves
and white candle, the metal canisters brimming

with lentils, cumin, fennel—praise the ailanthus moth
spinning its coarse silk because it cannot stop and it must.

“What I Want is Simple” first appeared in Poet Lore. “Amulet” first appeared in the American Poetry Review. “Self-Portrait as Slinky” appeared in Ninth Letter and Best New Poets 2014. “You Ask Why Write About It Again” first appeared in Copper Nickel.