Avery Mitchell

In their dreams, her hijab is a noose,
the scarlet silk draped over her shoulders like a cautionary tale.
This is what they already know: her heart,
a ticking bomb, all wires, metal, and blood,
her mouth, a cavern of missiles.
When they spit terrorist at her, they don’t imagine
that her body cracks against the pavement,
that her blood spills into her hijab
until the meaning of her name dissolves on their tongues.
This is what they don’t know: there are so many ways
to wear a hijab. But a weapon has never been one.
***
In a store in Jackson Heights, my mother thumbs
through scarves: a rosy pink that complements her blush,
an embroidered emerald the hue of her sari,
an explosive angerine that makes her glow like a sunrise.
When she holds up the shimmering fabrics under the fluorescent light,
they balloon into a gust of wind.
Later, in front of the mirror, she will fold each end
of her newly-bought scarf into the shadows of her face,
secure it with pins sharp enough to cleave skin.
Now it’s perfect.
***
Over breakfast, my mother makes pancakes and repeats
the incident about the hijabi who was attacked on the bus.
Right here, in Queens, too, she says.
My mother wonders how long our borough
has been knived into red-margined slits,
and she pours too much batter into the bowl.
My mother keeps her distance from strangers,
tugs her hijab just an inch closer,
mutters a prayer onto my chest everyday
as if I will become a silhouette.
For years, the anthem trickled between the gaps in our teeth.
Yet every bus, every train, every street expands into a depthless ocean—
we suffocate, cough up the bitter blue of premonitions.
***
I stare at my reflection in the mirror, and I wonder if this is
the face of an American: melanin-soaked skin, eyes worn by my Bengali grandmother.
I wonder if it’s even possible for my trembling brown hands
to hold America in her glorious whiteness,
to sing her anthem as if it can oscillate
in the syllables of my Islamic name.
I fear this story of otherness is only a warning that will echo
in the punctures of my ribs. I fear that I will never
learn how to harness it into a battlecry
that roars and roars.
***
In another dream, a stranger tells her that scarlet
is her favorite color, reminds her of the aching wounds
we all carry from one home to another.
She nods, I know what you mean.
My mother no longer tells me about hate crimes during breakfast
because our bodies have never been torn—
our bodies are made of prayers.
She says that today will be spectacular because
she watched the sunrise, watched the scarlet
linger, like a slow melody.