Back to Issue Thirty-Two

Hum Jins

2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry, Finalist

When Rabia Aunty found out
I was moving in with a woman,
her gold nose-ring must’ve unhooked.
Parveen Aunty probably told her over the phone,
landlines firing up northern suburbs,
who got word from Yasmin Aunty
who couldn’t confirm rumor from truth.
All of my mother’s friends watched
her weep into lime green minarets
stitched across the mosque’s carpets
two Fridays in a row, kneeling east
in a basement, once a Methodist church,
its walls now pinned with crayon miniatures
of the Ka’bah, courtesy of seven year olds
from Sunday School. I bet every time
my aunties closed their eyes in prayer,
instead of God they saw me kiss
a blond woman in a Rite-Aid parking lot.
Asthagfirullah! This was worse
than when Ali dropped out of engineering school
or when Zainab fell in love
with that Hindu boy, her wedding blessed by fire
and now this? One of their daughters is…
How do you say homosexual in Urdu?
I looked it up on the internet, at seventeen
too shy to ask my aunties, I tucked the word
between my teeth, deleted the search history.
But we all know that we know.
Just yesterday I ran into Saira Aunty
at Aziz Uncle’s halal meat shop,
her grocery cart stacked with breasts
of chicken. It’s for the dinner party
on Friday,
she said, You’re coming na?
pressing my hand in hers, even now
no one says the word.



In the Basin of Another Country

2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry, Finalist

Between ruins and shrines
I look at what I overlook –

water faucet in the public toilet
knobless and bald,

a stranger on a coin,
a flag whose name I know but don’t.

How to wash my hands
in the basin of another country?

At some point I forgot
intuition is an alibi for practice,

everything is learned
even the door,

my first night in Rome
the keys wouldn’t grip

the lock’s throat,
untutored angle of hands

and later boarding a train north,
a tight-lipped door

I maneuvered across a memorial
of minutes, how to enter

a woman passed through first
uneventful as air.

When obvious is unclear
it’s bizarre

or is it spiritual,
attention, how it ribbons

on my way to the famous fountain
a name for every stone.

Still I take the wrong turn,
empty piazza

no water flowering baroque,
just a newsstand

a bylane
small events I pass.



Sahar Romani is a poet and educator. Her poems appear on the Poetry Society of America website and in The Offing, The Margins, and Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019).  She has received fellowships from Poets House and New York University, where she completed her MFA. Prior to her MFA, Sahar trained as a human geographer and received her doctoral degree from University of Oxford. Born and raised in Seattle, Sahar lives in Queens, New York and teaches expository writing at New York University.

Next (Chelsea B. DesAutels) >

< Previous (Erin Adair-Hodges)