And The Memory Forgives

Illustration by ppdans

Written by Munira Tabassum Ahmed

after Willie L. Kinard III

they
never
tell
us
how
to love
brown women
only
archive
ourselves
in their
bodies.

I’ve written to the sun before, but I don’t know if she has replied. What language does she speak if not liquid-honey light and blue-green holy? The kiss of late dawn is a greater poem than any I could write. Over five nights, I will remind her of last summertime. On the sixth night, I will rest.

When I cut mangoes for my nieces, they fight over the flesh closest to the skin. My mother tells me that when she was younger, she’d fight for the slice along the seed, and I don’t know if it tastes different but it makes the space between the palms full and sweet.

[Are our bodies like the space between palms?] Slack-jawed // starry eyes open // a self-cleaved cavity that is less whole than it is an aperture to be inherited // to be filled // to be adjacent to two whole things and never whole itself.

Tomorrow, I will turn into a waterfall, but for now I ask whether I’ve been kind enough to myself.

There is truth in forgiveness, and there is salt in this hollow self.
Is it more selfish for the grapefruit to love the marigold than it is for the songbird to love the sycamore tree?

I have never been sure how to describe self-love // the space where you finally, desperately, want to be real so you can hold this temporary body close. Does it feel like fire or does it cool itself? Is the absence of mourning heavy or light? Are the frames to our portraits thin or thick like cages?

More than anything, do you forgive yourself?

My cousin didn’t stop using lightening cream because it was bad for her — she gave up when it wouldn’t work fast enough. In time, I hope she forgives herself.

We can say we want that brown girl self-love, and we do, but it is more than passive acceptance. It is not only survival in the mouth of the beast, but making the warm space comfortable. I have always avoided the teeth but that is not enough. When the beast only weakens with every daughter, I wonder if it’ll ever get small enough for us to consume. Forgive me for believing this country is endless when it swallows our herd whole. I hope we are just going over the horizon. I hope I will see us together again.

I crack open a fortune cookie and rip the paper. Two half-truths melt into a whole.
Your grandmother was born under hail, and             your mother was planted in a thunderstorm;
                      your daughter never gets caught             under your rain.
                                         lucky numbers:  27     5               8    15    11

Every day is a forgiveness of our past selves and each other. When the earth resets, it forgives itself, and we have always mimicked the earth in our motion.

Summertime is the soft void where we understand that. Time1 and place2 do not have to be real, but here, we are both defined and untitled.

I do not call this body perfect because perfection was defined by people who did not have me in mind, but in this moment we are both expansive and ancient // endless future and endless past // skyscraper and encyclopedia // a girlhood that is both heard and believed // running parallel to the grief of our mothers // in this moment we are perfect. We fit the definition.

It is only night if you call it by that name.

In this dark, I ask to see the girl I could’ve been. She is holding a rattlesnake by the teeth and checking its mouth. She can’t see where the snake has pierced her hand, or how evenly the slow-swelling bite is travelling.

And so I fill the space between my palms with sunlight from an old summer, letting it reflect into inherited gold. When I was handed this self it contained the entire universe, growing smaller with time. Now, I am planting sunflowers in the dark to watch myself walk on the moon. I turn over the soil and am told I was born here, silvery and spit-slicked. She looks like a stranger.

[Do we mourn the girls we could’ve been? Or do we find peace in our growth away from their roots? How will I arrange my leaves when I have no template to go by?] I untangle my future from other timelines and carve teeth from stones. This body doesn’t tell fortunes, but it holds love and will continue to hold love — for itself and for the world.

You’ve grown brighter since I last saw you.
Find comfort in our in/finity.

they
never
tell
us
how
to love
brown women
but
we’ve
taught
ourselves.

11clocks fill with sand and turn over each hour

2the lamp oil from a compass leaks out into my hands