Comely Words to Ear or Eye by Tarfia Faizullah (filmed by Jamaal May)

Tarfia Faizullah’s ” Elegy with Her Red-Tipped Fingers”

THE POEM READ in her pleasant voice, filmed by audio engineer/LitFest poet Jammal May


Tarfia Faizullah’s “Elegy with Her Red-Tipped Fingers”

READ THE POEM with its shapely look and clever lineation

In two weeks I’ll cross two oceans wide
as the funeral processions to your grave:

bearded men continue to thumb plastic
prayer beads beside your sheet-swaddled

body. Grandmother, here in Virginia, I cradle
the phone to my cheek & stand over the dark

skillet, waiting to turn over another slice
of bacon I will slip into my mouth, knowing

well that this sin, too, like so many others,
dissolves once I will it to. Allah-er borosha,

I mumble to your daughter: It’s Allah’s will:
words I know cannot fill even this half-empty

suitcase spilled out across hardwood floor: color
of those low, yellow plains of West Texas Mother

sobs past on her way to the airport, compelling
her body faster towards yours before it disappears

into its bamboo-bordered grave. Once, I stood
over your other granddaughter’s grave while

cicadas hummed the sky clean. Once, I wanted
to be the white wind shirred across any open

field. Once, I lay beside you, a child unmoving,
a body slowly filling with feathers: together

we listened to Grandfather’s breathing, labored
against white mosquito netting—& now, you

too, are dead, two weeks too early. Now, after
another scythe-thin rickshawallah pedals

my ocean-tugged body across those severed
Dhaka streets, & after I have slipped into his dark

fingers a few extra takahs, & after I have made
my way past storefronts choked with glittering

stacks of gold bangles, & after another tailor
has slipped from his neck the faded measuring

tape, & after he has pulled it taut across my back,
around my leg—who, if not you, will ask me

to tear free the folded fabric from its paper
parcel to finger the soft silk? Who will ask

of me its worth, its weight? I kneel, add another
razor, plastic-capped, to this slowly-filling suitcase:

lotion, mosquito repellent, tape recorder: items
on a list I draw thick, black lines through. But

it won’t be your voice I rewind over, fast-forward
through. It won’t be your hair you’ll sit beside

the window to rub henna into. It won’t be
your red-tipped fingers I’ll press a jar into:

small gift you won’t have asked me to bring.
It won’t be your veins I’ll notice, too late: fluvial

ribbons rising stark & sudden through the silk-thin
skin of your hands that won’t turn over another page

of newsprint dark with Bangla: language I speak
now to your grieving daughter, this language

the sari-cinched bodies of women were once
broken open for. Put up your hair, your stern voice

won’t admonish. Please let me see your lovely face.

(published at Blackbird)


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