THE BIRDWHISTLE PRIZE IN POETRY 2016
ZOHA BATOOL KHAN
i. Ammi, with her caramel voice
and Mama, with her green apple laugh
and me, with my cigarette-ash-underscore and
Ammi, with her worrier health
that worries us all into sickness too
and Mama, self-disciplined Cleopatra nursing
the asp of tradition at her breast
and me, child of choked avarice and giver hands,
healer hands, black-sun-hole.
Ammi with her wild-horse kindness and Mama,
with her caged-bird frenzy and me,
bitch commander, greedy slut with the benign smile
of a virgin queen.
Am-m(e) and Am-mama,
tempered, curry, temper, monsoon furies and knife tongues,
hearts and hands forged in tandoori fires.
ii. Ammi, with a dough grip, a rising-chapati grip, more caress
than hold and her chai sigh-smile, mama
with her iron fist and her deadpan voice, and me
with my lotus-bloom hand to match my
hibiscus-open heart, my neem laugh.
All of us running
into each other, tear-streams, and away from each other, branches
of a tree open, like a mouth tongued by the sky, a nest
iii. Ammi and Mama broken by their men, folded into
bite-sized morsels for their husbands to swallow
whole, Ammi and Mama happy
with their shackles, feeding their jailers haldi-flavored
Ammi and Mama demanding I join
them in captivity, clipping my wings so that
when a boy unlocks my cage to walk in, I don’t try
to claw his face off so I can fly away.
Ammi and Mama want me to trade
my warcry for a canary voice to sing
my children to sleep.
iv. Ammi, Mama, I’m sorry
for the scars I leave when I try to twist out
of your grip, when I try to grow away from you,
but I cannot become you.
Ammi and Mama and me, we are titanic
in our grief, mythical for our endurance but
Ammi, Mama, you kissed your captors and I would rather
spit in their faces.
Ammi, Mama, me, one in our suffering and three
in our awareness of it, smothering each other