Shagufta Mulla

Old Trauma, New Culture

My mother claims I can only be what her culture says.
Her mouth is like the black refrigerator she opens,
invoking a cool cloud she hopes

will close my young American sun that stirs up
sovereignty’s hushed dust, as I trample
across her sanitized self and lemony linoleum.

I question gender roles and the black door silently
gapes. I get in, crawl to the corner
where rice and daal feed me absentee

comfort, but many hereditary hums, like unswattable
Ganges mosquitoes, siphon out my sweetness
throughout the night.

At breakfast, he opens the refrigerator
and reaches past me for the lychees he loves.
Stiff from the costs and perks of western life

shelved above my head, I stretch to pop
the imprints of ancestors off my back.
I say nothing so as not to uncoil his arranged

marriage anger that rattles in a passed on hollow
pot, made of many ways of cracked clay.
She returns from milking animals or pain,

a glass jar coddled to her chest like someone else’s
daughter, and she prods my chilled flesh, releasing
rivers of ghosts of silenced childlike hope.

Still too dust-kicking-wild, she presses my fresh
body and new ways into blue ice cube trays
until my identity jumps out, leaving me a puddle

of quiet that fills each perfect plastic square to the edges.
She opens the freezer and hides me in the back
on top of the unmarked tombs of us, then closes

the door and wipes the dust of my voice
off the handle when he calls to her for chai.