Riding the bus from Tulsa at dusk
singing to myself, I fill the air
With richly-colored rainbows, and know
I’d missed those Mughal-e-Azam songs.
You know what they say, how people are people
and people everywhere are just the same,
their lives, experiences, feelings, joys,
sorrows, fury, frustration, tragedies,
all practically uniform.
I say – with all due respect to uniters
of a troubled world – no, we live in different rooms.
And me, I occupy two spaces
at once, speak different languages
My throat emits sets of different sounds
My two atmospheres differently composed
The stars in their heavens sparkle differently
I manage. I combine them both
in unequal measure at different times,
slipping one behind my back on campus
whipping it out with a flourish at the mosque.
But the struggle comes through sometimes
when I say I will do this yesterday and I stood my car
when I can’t find the right words in Urdu emotion
when I’m talking to ammi.
When they say bicultural
it’s not just that s.he can make lasagna and lassi
It’s that she can construct, maintain, and live in
two different worlds, set them up
with different furniture, in different colors
Fabulous, amazing, colorful lives!
(Bloody lonely hard work, of course).
Many who call themselves bicultural
can live one culture and can just manage the other.
Functionally literate. Not so bad,
but not quite comfortably at home.
To those who (try to) color the world
monochrome, I say, transcend that.
Maybe embrace the world that swirls
with dramatically different,
clashing hues, that clatters with a cacophony
of millions of kinds of sounds.
Going colorblind’s the lazy way.
A cop-out. That way, you’ve no need to try
to contain it all. All you have to do
is pretend it isn’t even there. Big deal, huh?
What an achievement to shut eyes tight,
and tell me I am beautiful (despite the swarthy skin
the heavy hair sans sunny hues, the opaque dark brown eyes.
Oh yes. Gorgeous and exotic.) try instead
to become an Argus, with eyes that truly
see a thousand colors, with ears
that truly hear a multitude
of children crying in different tones –
some of them charming your hearts away
and others not.