I trace the reels of string
Beneath your autumn leaf skin,
Explore the mountain ridges
And the valleys where you began to dream.
They were strong hands once,
Raising children in a land where you couldn’t speak the language.
You would pound the water into the flour,
Bake chapattis and stir curry over the highest heat,
But you fed that old Singer
With the same tenderness you used
To stroke your daughter’s head when she was sick.
Now you wrap those same hands in strips of old cloth
And try to hide the pain from your family.
Now you cup your daily prayers
With the daily pills you take (almost) without question.
They show me pictures from a time before.
I don’t recognise you
Like the time I first saw you in a hospital bed,
Or when I caught a glimpse of a bruise
That seemed stained with iodine
And then another
Like a djinn had walked on your skin.
I tried to read your notes
But even after a year of medical school
It was all still Arabic to me.
Those pages were your life
Reduced to symbols and numbers and graphs.
Your hands now acted as a pincushion
For the miracles of modern day medicine.
I was worried that the smile they had tried to stitch back onto your face
Would split when we took you home,
The same way your hands shake
After you’ve sewn too many clothes.
But the strength was never just in your hands.
It’s as much you as your left ear
Or the way you write the number seven.
You once passed it to the world through your touch
Now through your smile
Always through your love.
The fabric will tear
But you’ll remain you –
Strong despite the stitches
Which help hold your life together.
(C) Sarah Ahmed, 2012