BY ARIA ABER
The girls and I circle
the wet-grassed garden to serve
noghl and tea to our mothers,
who titter and swat bugs
on each other’s arms. Yana
slapping the tablah to Milad
singing Rahim, Rahim Ulla
jolts my ears with its sexless
faithfulness. What wrong did I
expect of him all these years?
Later, while our mothers
snore on the living room floor,
we gumshoe past jayenamaz,
pack our lives like limp geese
by the neck and let them dangle
from the window to avoid
looking at the faces
we’re about to lose. Family, to me,
is only the sweat of female secrecy:
Negoor’s body hair sings
to mine as she passes me
the joint, cheeks wistful
with the heaven of Afghan
blow. Finally, Leda explains to us
Foucault: there is no invisible force
to relieve us from ourselves. We are,
after all, going nowhere. And I
agree—then why, whenever
the bathroom reeks of sacred
blood and poultry, do I begin to weep
for a drill to cleave
my forehead so the light
can enter me in shuddering waves? I do
believe in God. I do. But once
Milad establishes that on judgement day
even our mothers will run from us in fear,
I tipple the night’s thick milk
until it swallows me.
Egon Schiele: Wally with Black Stockings, 1913
BY ARIA ABER
Though the last thing I want to be is saved, I feel— in the assaulted sense of the word— jealous. Of youth. Jealous of this flame-haired muse, whom Egon sifted from a ramshackle Kaffeehaus in pre-ruined Vienna. She must’ve known that she burnt like a star, brushstroke et al, through that great era of a looming First World War— years before scarlet fever, before he left her for their rich, musky neighbor. I need you, he told her, for the painting. Wally’s eyes grow, in later portraits, even bluer, aquatic with loss—but here, she’s child-nymph, hogs-hair brushed into black gouache, knees raised, her gaze keen like a shard of milk-glass rubbed into ox gall, then honey. She wanted, I imagine, to be more than burnt umber and graphite on paper, but must’ve loved him, devotedly, the way I loved a man whose vision I attempted to satiate for three burnished years. Who wouldn’t want to be rendered to a sign of a century? Wouldn’t want to be so forever fuckable? I too once was nineteen & oversexed in history’s violent lingerie, I thought to be shattered confirmed I was loved. And isn’t that what desire is, a building waiting for bricks to be thrown through its windows? I’d nothing left, I thought, to trawl of my life—but I still had it then, the bloom it cost to mistake, like any good muse, the music of a man’s hand for the work of salvation.
BY ARIA ABER
Even poverty can be glamorous, if you insist.
Piss rusted on elevator floors so gilded I mistake it for a trinket.
Mother burrows her face in my hair. She bites my scalp for a hope.
We try to integrate. It is a dream to have enough for a car. Mother says One day we will drive past palm trees to gas stations and buy lemon-salted almonds, which is her way of saying One day we’ll have a house.
Our failures thread bread crumbs into prayer beads.
We are, by default, religious.
Before I brush her wet face, I am still young. Who wouldn’t be humiliated by a cold room the size of a casket? Teeth cracked with ice. But suddenly, with her in my arms, I am no longer small.
Dirty and hungry like a parasite.
I wish I could carry my mother, my life’s true love, toward the mirror.
As if her caravan beauty could save her.
Huddled together like lovers in frost, I watch ants march through her inflamed eye socket, a spectacular procession.
God. Is what we lack a shelter for the fragile to pass through?
Does this refugee camp look like a life to you?
On paper, I have a birthright. To the sadness framing my mother’s eyes this is meaningless but it makes me invincible in theory.
In theory, my mother is not a tongue running along the coin lock of a shopping cart, looking for the promise of more.
But when did theory deposit me? When buy me dinner?
Poverty contains, by necessity, poetry.
Mother says Que sera sera, one step after another.
To return to where we’ve come from would mean to mourn, to moor, to morning.
Upstairs, the blue uncertainty wafts its clouds like unfurled flags.
The workers hand out flip phones, grape juice, sleeping bags. Still, we remain silent in the fibrous shatter. Faithful to our gold feet.
At night, I sing a lullaby to Mother, cradle her in my arms.
I feed her a spoonful of glass. By morning, she will be a window.