Collective Unrest


Three Poems by Danyal Kim

September 25, 2019

The American Muslim Wife

Ayesha used to talk fondly of her parents:

her father from the West Indies

who kept a house full of exotic birds

in blueberry and mango plumage

living room a cacophony of caw caws

serving fried plantains in the evenings

the retreating sun a brief respite

from the Texan summer days.          

Her mother who converted to Islam

in honor of her ancestors

forced to worship the white man’s God.

She learned to greet with Assalamu Alaykum

recited Qur’an as she held her arms

old language of faith unearthed

from beneath stone, beneath wood,

the adhaan arises from the grass

spreading across the sky like crane wings.

Her mother, lover of history, recounts

a Blackfoot grandparent, Native man

who opened his own grocery store

him, and his Black wife, amidst a town

of envious jobless white men

eyeing the shelves of liquor and bread

one hand on their satchel of dollars

other hand on a wooden pistol handle

contemplating business or theft.

Regarding my mother, Ayesha asks,

Does your mother care that I’m Black?

And so I think of my mother

immigrating to this strange country

washing clothes in laundromat jobs

making orange colored stews at home

speaking to her boys only in Korean

afraid that they could live as ghosts

a pale apparition of a human being

their eyes too slanted to be American

God forbid, not knowing enough Korean

so that they won’t even be Asian.

My mom seemed disappointed

when I told her in college

I was only interested in a Muslim wife.

Bad enough her son chose Islam

following a charlatan from the desert

seemingly worshipped by mean angry men –

their scraggly bushy beards and AK-47s

contrast to followers of Christ, rosy cheeked

worshippers kneeling in Europe and Korea.

My mom was cooking and stirred that ladle

angrily as it rattled the pot’s steel stomach.

She said, “you’d choose a Muz-lum

over a proper Korean woman!?”

In the silence that followed, I wondered

if I had become that pale ghost

wandering off to foreboding realms                   

a scary place with violent poltergeist.  

I told Ayesha, “my mom will accept

whoever I decide to marry.”

It was true, since I know my mom

had no real choice in what I do.

The Reservation in Connecticut

My lover likes to cuddle

burying her head in my chest

sniffing the soap-scent of my shirt.

While stroking her coarse black hair

and sharing a cup of rooibos tea

the color of a sunset’s tears

I ask her if she ever wants to travel.

She thinks for a bit, then says

the woods of Connecticut

where she spent her childhood

in a world of tree bark and leaves.

Surrounded by men and women

Native and African mix

noses round and brown

vaguely remembering family members

dancing and singing along drum beats

sleeves of their dresses are bird feathers

fluttering in a whirlwind.

She tells me nobody is there now

except the official tribal chief

sole protector of her ancestor’s lands.

Everyone left their ancestral homelands

to find better jobs in the city.

Somehow when she told me that

I just imagined an old, sad man

cracks running through his face

like dried up river veins

living alone in tree bark and leaves.

Straining his ears, wishing maybe,

to hear familiar voices

amongst the songs of owls and pigeons.

The chief of a community that vanished

down roads, stretched out like a wolf’s tongue,

devoured by skyscrapers, sharp as teeth.

Light Skinned Muslims

When you’re hanging out with Muslims

you inevitably hear them talking about other Muslims.

It’s a struggle to be a light skinned Muslim

a Black Muslim told me once.

These Bosnian and Albanian immigrants

become lost in the crowds of White faces

snowflakes crushed underneath snow piles

the clinking of pint glasses at the bar

replaces the recitation of Qur’an at sunset.

Sometimes it’s a blessing to not look like them

a Black Muslim scholar explained to me once.

let your non-European phenotypes, your dark skin,

noses both flat or pointy, protect your faith.

It’s a non-salted peanut kernel lodged in its shell.

White people don’t want us and we don’t want them.

These White people convert to Islam but end up

leaving anyway to drink and party

a Palestinian Muslim friend told me once. It’s

a tricky thing being a convert, or else your

Qur’an or hijab just be exotic little play things.

They aren’t your delicate fans from Japan

or a keychain of a sombrero hat you bought in Cancun.

Don’t forget, when you whisper into your palms

it’s God Himself you speak to.

I’m sick of being around White people all the time

-no offense

said a Pakistani Muslim acquaintance to my clearly

East Asian face. There’s a certain comfort when

you can walk into a mosque and everyone’s brown too.

Men can wear their traditional shawaal kameez

without White people hollering about wearing a dress.

No one makes a face at spiced chicken biriyani

demanding cups of water to sooth a scorched tongue.

Pale folk can only handle salt and pepper, it seems.

I was once a Muslim too, you know,

I say to my non-Muslim friends while drinking a pint

at the bar. My faith is invisible to everyone.

It is henna imprinted on the back of my tongue

I have to speak in order for people to see it.

I have no idea why I told them this. Maybe

I just don’t want to be seen as just another

ordinary guy at the bar on a Friday night.  

Danyal Kim lives in Chicago where he works at an office job at a government agency by day and writes poetry by night. He will occasionally perform his poems at open mics around the city. His greatest joys in life are writing, cooking, and traveling.

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