Poem of the Week | February 09, 2011

This week we are proud to feature Tarfia Faizullah’s “Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine’s School for Girls,” which appears in our latest issue, TMR 33:4.  Tarfia Faizullah’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Cincinnati Review, diode, Ploughshares and elsewhere. She is the recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Project Award and is currently based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Author’s Note:

“In a letter to Edward Garnett, Joseph Conrad wrote, ‘I feel nothing clearly. And I am frightened when I remember that I have to drag it all out of myself.’ These poems, I hope, attempt the impossible task Conrad describes by trying to enact the complexities of both obsessive memory and grief and to show how they rise up in odd and devastating ways in foreign or familiar settings.

“Three of these poems, ‘Poetry Reading at St. Catherine’s School for Girls,’ ‘Reading Tranströmer in Bangladesh’ and ‘En Route to Bangladesh, Another Crisis of Faith,’ owe incomparable debts to three visionary writers whose work I always return to, particularly in the aftermath of difficult losses. Both ‘Poetry Reading at St. Catherine’s School for Girls’ and ‘To the Bangladeshi Cab Driver in San Francisco’ owe a debt to my awkward and confused younger self, who likes to show up when I least expect it.”

Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine’s School for Girls

“If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called the thing he felt inside him the       silence of snow.”
-Orhan Pamuk, Snow

Before the hanging cross, the girls
take turns standing at attention before
us with eyes closed or hands clasped,

headbands bright green or bangles
yellow, glints that fill the silence like
falling snow. They recite poems they

have carried in their mouths for days,
and my desire to go back, to be one
among these slender, long-haired girls

is a thistle, sharp and twisting at my
side. The words psalm, blessing, lord
rise in me like bees heavy with pollen,

and the teenager I once was unzips
herself from me, emerges, a crocus
bristling through snow. She is back

in the old chapel where the priest
again lifts into the air the Bible,
declaims about the kingdom of God,

gifts promised only the righteous–
the girl I was, heavy and slow in her
thick glasses, knew she would never

enter heaven, never be these young girls
singing, arms pale and slim as the white
birch whose branches, dappled with gold,

shade the stained-glass window. In Pamuk’s
novel, the headscarf girls in Eastern Turkey
hang themselves rather than go uncovered,

and still I desire that certainty of conviction,
even as the self beside me pulls on her hair,
sucks long strands of it deep into her mouth,

so I gather her in my arms, shake her, tell
her to listen, that the sky will always happen,
these branches. Sometimes, it causes me

to tremble, tremble, she sings beside these
girls who will grow into or away from their
bodies, and I know I must push the heavy

amber of her back inside me. Help me, Lord.
There are so many bodies inside this clumsy one.