The Aleph Review is delighted to present two poems from Rakhshan Rizwan’s forthcoming debut poetry collection Europe, Love Me Back (Emma Press), set to be released on 6th October, 2022. Rakhshan is a former Aleph contributor—her poem ‘Brown Girls’ was published in our second volume (2018).
A hundred years of gaze
For the ashen-eyed imam her body is an aberration; it makes
sacred calligraphies tremble in shades of indigo and gold
for her neighbour she is a rosary-clutching fanatic,
her breath ponderous with ardent, syrupy Arabic
for passengers on the bus her body is a peg to hang their eyeballs, en route to suburban hell
for her son she is songs in four languages, each one wrapped
around the other, hissing, silken, serpentine
for her professor she is otherness, the red of her embroidered dress
a chromatic invasion on a grey winter
for the hooded dog-walker crossing the street, she is
the clash of civilizations, the mortar from distant wars
the swollen bodies of refugees marking borderlands in the sea,
the Gothic need to be expunged from the European imaginary
all that is left whispering when the mind empties itself, but her body is more than something to move a slow news day
a signifier to light and take a long drag; more than a Rumi verse, a nesting doll, a whirling Sufi, a harem girl —
she begins to cut herself out of dinner conversations, headlines,
starts to sew herself a brand new skin.
Foundation in Rose Beige
— that is the name of skin that provides full coverage,
the name of the thing you say is too much, filling out
the pores, blemishes and scars, all the damaged women
sauntering around make-up counters,
dabbing it into their skin, rubbing it onto their bones,
my mother in the mirror squeezing out a generous amount on her patriarchal wound, women plastering their daughters
with foundation in Heavenly Honey.
Sometimes we need it up to our arms, sometimes our thighs, sometimes we need to soak in it to survive, sometimes we drink foundation in Suede Mocha,
keep it in our purses at all times, small vials of colour
tucked into our pillbox because we are bone setters, shock absorbers, dirty dancers, ritual chanters, healers, queens, magicians, conjurers, witches, and we leave our Warm Vanilla on the pages we write, the dishes we wash, the people we hold; there are sutures of Deep Charmeuse on our faces, stitches of paint, ointments of hue, medicines in warm and cool shades; there are prescriptions in Creamy Georgette
in our bathroom cupboards, doctor’s orders in Pink Bisque, holding us together as we tremble in supermarket aisles, lie waiting on white hospital sheets.
Our mothers massaged Light Taffeta into our hair
before bidding us goodbye; the words spray-painted
on the subway walls are Soft Caramel, the ink of our histories Golden Tan,
but sometimes my skin is Musty Ash: then I am the darkest woman I have ever been. My skin curdles and shows, my skin singed and burrowed
and bone, and I can no longer dab, no longer spread and mix. I can no longer find a shade to swatch, stitch, suture and fix,
no longer even out the blots on this broken sheet of skin.
Rakhshan Rizwan is a writer and scholar working at the intersection of creative and scholarly practice. She is a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with Utrecht University in the Netherlands and has a PhD in comparative literature. She is the winner of the Judith Khan Memorial Prize for Poetry (2015), and her debut pamphlet Paisley (The Emma Press, 2017) was shortlisted in the Saboteur Awards, as well as the Michael Marks Awards. Her poems have appeared in Nimrod, Blue Lyra Review, Bird's Thumb, aaduna and Postcolonial Text. She is the author of Kashmiri Life Narratives (Routledge, 2020), a research monograph which explores the intersections between human rights and literature in the Valley of Kashmir. She speaks four languages and is originally from Pakistan but has lived in Germany, the Netherlands and currently lives in the Bay Area in the United States.
About the Emma Press: The Emma Press is an award-winning independent publishing house based in Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham. It was founded in 2012 by Emma Dai’an Wright and is dedicated to producing beautiful, thought-provoking books for adults and children, and to making poetry accessible to everyone. The Emma Press publishes themed anthologies, illustrated chapbooks and children’s poetry and fiction, with a growing list of translations which includes titles from Latvia, Estonia, Indonesia, Spain and the Netherlands.