Posts Tagged ‘women’

When the air begins to change in New York

from blistering cold to lukewarm

the way ice water pumped up, from beneath the dirt

hits your humidity drenched face

in Bangladesh on a summer morning

while beads of sweat cling from your back

and cats lie with legs outstretched on the veranda,

smoke and the smell of roti catching you, welcoming,

I stop waiting for the bus —

And stroll down cement sidewalks,

past frame houses with colorful shutters and small yards

under the shade of green ash,

the corner deli filled with students craving grease to stuff their faces

and sex, drooling

not paying attention to street lights

or stop signs

or school boys passing their rubber balls,

smiling to myself

filling the air with compliments

remembering conversations that never happened,

wishing they had.

– Shammy 3/20/13 4:33pm

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My brother and I used to play manhunt with the neighborhood kids: GJ, Manny and his older sister. We would hide in the factories, under the loading docks, in the alleyway that was paved with gravel and weeds down the middle. We would play sometimes till our parents came looking for us, to take us home. I remember going exploring in those parts, taking flashlights and climbing down the stairs of the underground sewer system. I don’t remember it smelling bad or being uncomfortable. It was like a cave that no one knew existed but us, and we were happy with just that.

One day I packed all my schoolbooks for the year, some clothes and my shoes into three plastic grocery bags for me to run away with. I waved goodbye to my mother, who didn’t notice in the mist of tending to my sister. I left with a sinking feeling; picked up my bags and made my way to the shed in the middle of the alleyway with its cracked window. It was winter and I remember the cold air that left frozen streaks on my face. I stood in the rubble of the abandoned shed for awhile before I set my bags down on the gravel. There was no place to sit so I took my notebook out and held it in my hand, too scared then to open it. I wouldn’t have a bed to share anymore, but at least I had all my books. I could still go to school every day and have lunch and it will be just the same but better, I thought. When it was starting to get dark my brother came and stood in my broken doorway, “you couldn’t find a better place to hide?” He snickered. With an evil grin on his stupid face, he picked up my bags and led the way back home, “why did you run away?” He coaxed.  “Why did you run away?”

“Nobody likes me,” I said.

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My mother and I used to have tea parties. Sometimes they were casual, but other times she would dress me up in a pretty frock and I would invite my stuffed animals to join us. I would pour tea from my ceramic teapot with the flowers on it into the tiny little matching cups. I was very precise, waiting and tilting my head down for a second after each cup was filled. Then I’d put exactly three raisins on everyone’s plate. There was a bunny, a cat, a duck, my mother and me sitting on our red carpet.  And we would pretend to sip the tea making it last, until my father came home at which point we would drink the tea and pack up.

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958

Sometimes, when I find myself in the company of city friends I remember the Brooklyn house. It wasn’t a house really, but that’s what we used to call it, five people crammed into our tiny one bedroom apartment atop a flight of stairs. There was a luxury to it then because we weren’t yet accustomed to more. We had mice and cockroaches that co-habited our digs, but we made it work. I would hunt down the mice with my mother till they were trapped in a corner looking up at their deaths, with shoes and hammers I would smash them. This is what my mother and I did for the most part of the day. She would cook before my father came home and I would practice my letters. On laundry days she would dress me up and take me with her to the Laundromat, but sometimes I got lucky and she would give me a big pile of clothes to wash with me in the shower. I would throw them on the floor of the tub and stomp with my tiny little feet watching the colors mixing their way down the drain. She would always set aside an hour or two for later when she would pick a library book and make me follow the words till I understood what it meant. It was difficult to concentrate over the noise of the TV but I seem to have managed. We had thin red carpets spread across two rooms, tiles in the kitchen, a full sized mattress, a sofa bed, a dresser, a TV and a fridge. The bedroom had two closets, one right next to the other. I remember my father putting in a plank of wood above the clothing rack so we’d have a shelf to store our winter things when the weather picked up. I used to climb up there and hide amongst the tiny stacks of clothing my mother gathered thrift store hunting and rummaging through thrown out bins of garment factory clothing. This was before old, used clothing was in style.

The garment factories were around the back of my house, between second and third avenue on thirty-sixth street. My mom found a job in one when I was in elementary school. There’s a stereotype in the United States of Asian women working in garment factories, created by the capitalist first world and the convenience of sweatshops and secondary human beings in the third world, but my mother was far from just another statistic. Emigrating from Bangladesh to a country where the language was foreign and the skills needed were not ones she had known, she got a job at the only place she could, the first world sweatshop down the block. She would come home sometimes and say the Spanish women who go into the manager’s office get paid more than she does. I didn’t know then what she meant. I didn’t know of the world yet, or things.

Ms. Varotte

My brother used to walk me to school then, P.S 172, our very own beacon of excellence. I was his pet dog and he would wrap his fingers tightly around my neck, arm outstretched, squeezing harder if I wasn’t walking fast enough. Sometimes we would pass other kids from my class and I would find it difficult to smile so I would look down and pretend I didn’t see them, but they always saw me and they always knew better than to ask about the red marks on my neck between our intervals of work.

There was that one day when I was in the first grade and my brother had left without me so my mother reluctantly allowed me to walk myself. Determined at heart but I walked with caution and fear, always looking back to see if there was anyone around but making sure they were far enough from me that they couldn’t do me any harm. When I was about a block away from school, a police car on the street turned on its siren. I didn’t trust cops, not even then so I kept walking trying not to walk faster but definitely not slowing down. One of the officers stepped out and called to me, told me to get into their car. I froze. I was not going to get into a car with two strange men; it didn’t matter to me that they had badges and a uniform because underneath it all I knew they still had cocks and fingers. There was a mother on the sidewalk walking her daughter to school and she told the officers she would walk me the rest of the block to the school. They reluctantly agreed and followed closely in their vehicle. At the entrance I thanked the brown haired Hispanic woman, more with my eyes than my mouth, signed my name in the late book and raced up the stairs to my classroom.

By the time I got settled, put my backpack in the closet, my first grade teacher asked me to leave; “go wait for me in the auditorium,” she said. I went into the giant room full of empty seats, the sounds of my tiny feet tapping and echoing. I waited for what felt like a good half hour. When my teacher finally came she asked me in a soft voice if I knew why I was there. I shook my head. Her pupils dilated and the floor shook with the sound of her roaring voice, her plump face as red as a ripe cherry ready for picking and her crazy curls bobbed on top of her head. I didn’t understand the words spitting out of her gigantic mouth, I just saw the foam gathering by in the corners of her lips and her face as fat as a balloon getting so big and red I thought she’d explode.

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Nostalgia

One cannot rely on the web of lies so carefully spun and placed into our memory.

Perception is deceit disguised with kisses and eyes.

I realize this now because I can no longer remember who you are.

Yes, I remember your name and the smell of your clothes

But I can’t seem to remember the masked disdain in your words

the deceiving puzzles hidden in your ghazals.

My feelings now are mangles by simple moments,

both good and bad, both misled with no context around it,

just a smile or a tear,

a warmth and lingering darkness but no truth.

No, never truth.

It’s unattainable

Buried away in the crevices of my mind,

out of sight, out of reach,

now clouded forever

Only to be remembered in the slightest of bits, on lonely nights trapped inside our failed fairytale.

– Shammy 11/13/12 3:47am

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Vietnamese. I am Vietnamese.

no. American. I am American.

I speak American.

English.

Bi-lingual by birth,

my parents spoke Bangla in the house,

English in school.

You’re so lucky people would tell me, you’re so smart,

 you know so many languages.

They knew only English.

disappointing. Vietnamese.

understanding, minimal.

speech, non-existent.

writing? Fuggedabout it!

Brooklyn,

We settled in Brooklyn,

in an apartment above an adult video store.

I would pass it on my way to school,

my friends would see it when they walked me back.

 

They lived in houses that were theirs,

had rooms of their own, with beds, fitted with sheets and excess pillows to throw around merrily at each other,

not caring if they tore to tiny little pieces

scattered around the floor.

 

The floor,

that’s where I slept with my sister, with my parents,

We had a bed but it was in the other room,

the one without heat where my brother stayed alone because his head was hotter than ours and his skin much thicker.

Too many sounds.

Too many tones.

One slip

and the whole

thing

changes.

you miss your horse?

no. I haven’t got one.

Horse?

 Yes I have seen them in pictures being ridden by white people as a pastime.

I spent my pastimes in the kitchen helping my mother

On the floor scrubbing the tile,

and in my books studying.

Studying harder than my friends did because I needed to.

A scholarship, for a college education or else…

How can I expect to become anything in this land filled with strangers?

you miss your rice paddy?

what.

no.

I don’t have one. why would I need one? I’m seven.

Paddy fields,

 isn’t that where they all think we come from?

Us Asians, we are the garment factory workers, the farmers, the poor, impoverished third world coming here for a better life. Isn’t it true what they say?

Our dreams must be different than theirs,

our hopes,

our influences.

 

Are we not all the same underneath this tanned skin?

You miss your ghost?

no, I do not miss my ghost.

that doesn’t even make sense. how does that even make sense?

Yes, when I was young they said so many things

The other kids,

They would taunt me because I didn’t look like them

Because they overheard something from their parents

From their role-models

But how would they know what it meant? They are just kids

Just like we were,

But no

We weren’t, we weren’t allowed the same liberty

Were we?

Oh!

you miss your mom!

No.

well.

no, I don’t miss her.

but

Yes

that’s what I was saying.

that’s what I

was saying.

That’s

What

I

Was

Saying!

But it doesn’t matter, don’t you see?

No matter what we say we will never sound like them and to the small minds, we will never be the same.

Isn’t that the sad truth?

It’s what I’ve come so far to learn

The sadness of truth is inevitable, but hope is what we came here for,

Hope is what keeps us alive

For one more day

Isn’t that it?

– Shammy and Lucinda 11/7/12

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I went to England to die.
I wanted to jump off the white cliffs of Dover
Into the channel
Without a struggle for breath
Just a downward decline
I thought I would see the light on the water tops
Waving goodbye

.
And then a soothing black would take it all away.
.
I went to escape this prison you put me in
The uneasy mornings that I wake up and know you have been here
Creeping during the night
At the foot of my bed
Black stood up against black
Only you were blacker than any black I’d ever seen
Reaching
For my toes, for my ankles, anything to hold me down.
.
I remember the wind
.                In the middle of July
.                               My hands shaking on that familiar rock
.                                             Clear waters whispering my name
.                                                           All I had to do was let go
And so I did.

– Shammy

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