Lately, I think in the shape of maps. Cartography is a relevant metaphor as my boundaries are bending yet again. My tongue wags in the direction of due East. I am revisiting old languages while my writing hand rests.
The immigrants gather together in my coffee shop, no matter the country of their origin. They call personal grammars from the air. The Persians gesture with palms towards the heavens; the Arabs stretch arms out wide as if to catch a word before it leaves the sentence; Indians write postcolonial diatribes with cigarette smoke. Some drink to lost memories hidden in their tea or coffee cups. A few read their stories from beer foam. They all remember somewhere else and some time from before.
He tells me that he would be disappointed if he returned home after thirty years of absence. Nothing will be as I remember, he says. He wasn’t supposed to stay here after the degree, but a political revolution changed the map of his world. He shrugs his shoulders. Now, his American-born children can’t speak the language well enough to understand the stories of their grandparents.
Like you, I say to him, I often have to choose which parts of myself I reveal to whom. We are always in the process of censuring our stories, speaking in languages half-mastered, or retreating to cultural corners where our imagined identities are safe and comfortable. He nods his head in agreement.
If one seeks stories of loss and regret, then that is what one will find, I remind him.
Later, he puts his large hand on the back of my neck and his lips touch mine. He writes words on my body. I am sure that there are complete sentences forming underneath my skin, patiently waiting for excavation.
I am not putting words on the page these days, but when they come out of my mouth, they sound like this:
You cannot tell your daughter to get the right degree so she will be self-sufficient while offering a nose job when she turns eighteen-years old so she’ll get a good husband. Don’t make your girls hate the darkness of their skin. Do you have any idea what it is like to look in the mirror every day and only see things that need to be fixed? My God, give us at least one day when do not feel like we have broken parts. Our identities are sufficiently complicated. You ask us to make our minds strong yet our bodies are mapped as territories waiting for occupation.
I notice myself saying “we” when I speak of Afghan food and language. We use this word for that. Oh, we cook the dish that way. I feel that part of this culture is mine: the language, the food, and the experience. The pronoun flies out of my mouth with authority, but sometimes, I wonder if I have a right to claim it as my own.
Wait, I tell myself.
My son holds both worlds in his blood, but parts are 0- like mine. The B+ of his father’s Central Asian grouping didn’t stick. Blood and languages are complicated; maps mark the loss or acquisition of both.
I have spent half of my life with those who do not speak English as a first language. I have spent half of my life bowing towards Mecca. If you asked me to draw a map of myself, I would not know where to place the center. I have many coordinates. They are slippery and stubborn like my veins are when called upon to give blood.
Let me tell you something; all of my centers are beautiful, no matter what parts sometimes bleed.
This time without words does not feel dry. I am stretching in the silence to find that my insecurities scream less than before. I don’t care that I am not a skinny girl. I have history on my bones, and babies, heartache and love. I understand that the circumference of my thighs hold multiple worlds that only the bravest can navigate.
I like who I am becoming. I wish the men that I loved in the past could see me now. They would enjoy my presence so much more than before.
I do not want to revisit my old self. Nothing would be as I remember.
Words become maps, and maps become poetry:
today, i am unpacking
my inner landscapes and
rearranging the map
where the meridian curved and bowed
around the space of you
this business of boundaries
was glorious, indeed
i creased and folded and hid the parts of myself
i did not want to see
if i am a country
if i am an exile
then i am partitioned
my tongue is split between half-spoken languages
my heart pronounces your name with such elegance that
maps peel back their surfaces to reveal
like my body, with its own feminine landscape –
the one that i am slowly learning to call
Deonna Kelli Sayed is a Love, Inshallah contributor and a www.patheos.com/blogs/loveinshallah editor. She is a published author and an emerging digital storyteller. Her work is also found at altmuslimah.com, Muslimah Media Watch, and storyandchai. Deonna is currently working on a memoir with support a Regional Artist Grant from the North Carolina United Arts Council. To learn more, visit her website, and join her on Facebook and Twitter.