Seema Reza is a poet and essayist based outside of Washington, DC, where she coordinates and facilitates a unique hospital arts program that encourages the use of the arts as a tool for narration, self-care and socialization among a military population struggling with emotional and physical injuries. Her work has appeared in The Beltway Quarterly, HerKind, Duende, Pithead Chapel and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Manifestation. Her memoir, 'When the World Breaks Open,' is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in April 2016.
H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
While We Sleep
Zaki drags his sleeping bag to the floor next to my bed, shin guards fastened around his
lengthening legs, a stack of skewers (he calls them spears)—beside him, flashlight under his
pillow. He has placed a chair against the front door of our apartment. He says he is running
Across the world, a boy wakes to the sound of gunfire. Later in the day, while we sleep, this boy
will leave his house and disturb a pile of trash meant for men in boots. It will explode.
I will wake completely tangled up with this child who snores and sleeps with his eyes almost
fully open. His bony feet kicking mine, his head in the crook of my arm, his elbows battering my ribcage. His sleeping bag abandoned on the floor.
His pieces will be collected. His father may be called. Someone will tell his mother. If anyone
is counting, the death will be registered. Will anyone ask his mother, Did you kiss him before he
left or did he sneak off to play in the streets while you were busy with ordinary chores?
I will disentangle myself, get up, grant myself the slow luxury of French press coffee brought
back to bed and read, my back aching from a night of disturbed sleep.
No official report will record whether she felt a sharp pain the moment it happened, if she felt an immense, inexplicable grief when she heard the distant boom of the explosion that ended his life.
He will laugh aloud in his sleep, and I will touch my palm to his forehead and smile.
There is no tally of how many mornings she will wake and have to teach herself grief all over
again, having forgotten in the night that the impossible has happened.
When Zaki wakes and I tease him for snoring, he will say he was awake the whole time. That he
had been running security all night.
it is plucked
from the tree
blamed for being a temptation.
I want to be dead woman flawless. Legendary,
two dimensional. Like my grandmother,
the gold standard of Bengali beauty impressed
through photo frame glass upon my childhood:
pale skin, thick hair, narrow nose, big eyes.
Each night, one hundred tugs on my nose to make it long
by the dark, broad-nosed woman who cared for me.
She wanted me to be prettier. Now I want to be prettier
than your girlfriend, prettier than your wife
I want mine to be the face you risk your neck reaching for,
the apple you cannot resist twisting from the tree.
When yet another man knocks
smelling of salt and cloth
demanding a piece of you,
Take the knife from his hand.
choose the piece of your flesh
to surrender. Carve it out cleanly,
put it in his palm, smile sweetly.
You may be tempted
to brandish the blade in his direction.
Let him go unscathed
for each of their hungry mouths
until all that remains is your frame
shut the door and take stock.
This is what you have to give.
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