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
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.