women in my life

by alizeh ayesha

How is the body more than the self? How do bodies become entwined unevenly in the process of meeting their needs and wants, sometimes in relations of support and at other times, harm? 

My poems echo this guiding question from you are here’s 2021 call for submissions by articulating the gendered expectations on a body and by exploring the entwined relationship of a female body with the body of the mother, of the grandmother, and of the sister.

Any present political moment must always account for the ways the body has been historically made, was made before; the present injustice is always an escalation or a repetition. In order for a woman to do that in the Global South means to look to ‘memory, trauma and an embodied history.’ 

These poems are attempts to articulate a silent painful relationship between familial gendered bodies and spaces. In these works, I try to situate the women in my family and myself in relation to different spaces. The anxieties of gendered bodies in the spaces of the home, the institution, the city, and the village is a theme I explore through these poems. As a Sindhi woman living in Karachi, Pakistan — whose family migrated to the city from the ‘rural’ parts of Sindh province — to be educated means to be colonized, to have different expectations of gender forced on you. These conflicting expectations are a product of colonization, ancestral patriarchy, and the patriarchy of the state, of religion, of urbanization, and of globalization. They cannot be neatly removed from one another. For my elders, coming to the city means to witness the horrors and loneliness of a (gendered) modernity. 

These poems exist at an uneven site of urbanity and rurality through bodies that are neither (or both). The poems look at the guiding question of bodies becoming entwined at the site of harm, at the site of anxiety, and also suggest a different way of seeing.

My grandma holds herself against all of the outside
She sees it like a dinosaur towering over a village
She sees the house as a space where we belong,
‘Stay here with me’, Ami Jan says to me

My mother represents the dwelling
As not a space of rest but as a space of endless labour
She walks while she eats,
She looks at each room and sees all the work she must do
Sometimes, when it’s dark, the home transforms into a ghost,
And my mother talks of running away

My sister is like a twin to me
We do the same things
We lie in our homes all battered
We smile in an institution,
Carrying memorabilia in our heads

Sometimes I feel like I’ve abandoned the home
Sometimes I feel like the outside is a monster

There are women in my life
That I cannot recognize in the walls
Of dwellings, institutions, parks, urban and rural
They remind me not to forget where I am from,
A heritage of gender that I must carry with me
In fancy spaces; in a home my mother is frightened of

‘Go into the outside,’ Ami Jan says,
‘But don’t become a stranger to me’
I wonder what space I look like to her

In speaking a foreign language with foreign meanings
Am I unrecognizable space or am I deluded space?
How do they figure I deserve all of this access
Or these containers that they tread over and embrace

These women in my life,
When they cry or wail, I see so much space
That I must make myself close my eyes,

Amma wrote notes on a page where I wrote a poem
Those notes talked about objects
That were lost in this house

She couldn’t read my angrezi poem
And I almost didn’t understand her Sindhi

Alizeh Ayesha is a writer, architect, and artist from Karachi, Pakistan. She studied architecture at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. She is interested in questions related to space, politics, gender, and colonization and hopes to continue to explore these themes through her writing, research, and art practice. She was recently shortlisted for the Zeenat Haroon Rashid Writing Prize for her nonfiction essay “Bad House.”