Blood Harmonies

“Blood Harmonies” appeared in Poet Lore (Fall/Winter 2007); it was reprinted in Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry (University of Arkansas Press, 2010).

To remember my mother crouching in our kitchen,
putting into place a new floor of ceramic tiles,
is to remember her blood hopes, her effervescent hunger
to keep the feet of her five kids from slipping
into the wrong kind of slide. Stay one with one another,
in blood harmony, she would say, meaning
brother and sister, Muslim and Muslim, blood and blood.
Pointing down at the tiles, she would say,
Look how the pattern comes together,
forms a larger mosaic of meaning. You should live like this.
Most of the time, I nodded my head, not knowing
how else to respond, agreeing because it was simpler.
But sometimes, standing there, looking down
at a floor not yet finished, at naked patches revealing
a history of vinyl, broken and stained, I would think,
I just can’t be happy living so small, so safe.
Then I would see, in those unfinished places, the face
of some girl I had met the other day,
whose name I never asked, knowing it was pointless…
I would stand there in the kitchen, thinking
how badly I wanted to know that girl’s name, to believe in it
like a new religion, like my own blood,
how I wanted to let myself fall in love with her,
because that girl had smiled at me, because that girl was real
and alive, not like one of those phantom wives
my mother saw in her dreams and spoke of in metaphors.