Suraiya Ali


Suraiya Ali


Brown girl, listen-

Brown girl with hair that doesn't curl right and pigmented, crater filled skin; listen-

Brown girl with the river and valleys and mountain ranges of her home land carved painfully into her face; listen- 

Holy brown girl with your acne and your body odor and hairy thick thighs; listen-

Exhausted brown girl named after warrior, princess, and goddess; please listen-

Brown girl with temple body listen, brown girl with tiger body, listen- 

Potential filled brown girl with brown nipples and brown eyes and growling stomach; please for the love of your forefathers listen- 

Listen to me please.

Brown girl I beg for your attention,

So many ways is it pulled,

Your tired eyes stress, they do not know where to look.

Brown girl, you beautiful brown girl, I am not here to lecture you, I have no moral to hand down to you. This poem is here to share in your desperation. 

Brown girl you are out for blood and I can taste your tension. 

Brown girl you are out for fame and I can cut the catastrophe with a katar.

Brown girl you are out for peace and I collect the tears that well up in your eyes- you cry from fear that you won't find it.

Brown girl as delicate as jasmine flower, brown girl as turbulent as waves that cut rock on the Ganges.

Brown girl I am not here to give you sympathies, I am not here to bestow on to you pity. 

Brown girl this is your lullaby. Brown girl this is your war cry. 

Brown girl you are a lullaby. Brown girl you are a war cry. 

Brown girl I am here for you. Brown girl I am here for you to smell like masala and wear white sari's with nose bleeds. 

Brown girl I am here to share in your rebellion and your malpractice.

Brown girl you are beggar and whore, Saint and sinner. Brown girl, at your doorstep does the universe shiver. 

Brown girl I am so in love with you. Brown girl, listen, I am at your feet asking for deliverance. Brown girl youare the topic of this conversation. You are the topic of every conversation. You pervade through life like water. You hold the dirt of mass migrations in your finger nails.

Oh brown girl, there is so much to you, I want to hold your shoulders and shake them in agony, brown girl you are capable of a masterpiece, brown girl you have been given the history of people from Ionia to Myanmar and you carry the weight of humankind so gracefully of the shoulders your mother gave you-

Brown girl you reek of sweat. Brown girl your clothes are stained. Brown girl your eyes hold all vitality. Brown girl please listen to me. 

May you never stop.

May you never stop.

May you never stop. 



People get uncomfortable when I say I'm poor and proceed to smile. 

Poor people should not smile. 

Poor people should not admit to their poverty, they should not under any circumstance- admit to their struggle. 

I am not allowed to admit I have less then 50 dollars in my bank account. I am not allowed to indulge you in the stress I feel when I decide I cannot afford the luxury of potato chips when at the grocery store. 

It makes you uncomfortable. It makes your skin crawl. It makes you think twice about my validity in your life. 

You see in the old country- in the lands of Tehran, Karachi, and Poona- poverty came with a stigma.. It meant you ate the refuse of dogs off the street. It meant your caste was lower. It meant you had nazar on you. It was nothing you would smile about. It was nothing you wore proudly on your chest. In the old country my parents, their parents, their parents- had servants, driver- they had a tab at the local gold shop. 

Even in the Kerman mountains where my Iranian great grandmother lived in caves; priceless, yard long Persian rugs graced her rock floors. She owned the earth. She was not poor.

But in America I carry her grace without monetary backing. I carry her grace in my big eyes and scared face. I carry their grace in hard work. In America I am rich in my poverty. 

One day I may go back to the mountain side of Mevan and walk where she slept. But now I count hours of work against hours of rest. Now is the time I crack knuckles and rub swollen eyes. Systemically, I am destined for no greatness. Undoubtedly, I will achieve just that. 



Unless you have walked on a thin thread tight rope held in poison air, 

You do not know what it means to hold pigment in your skin. 

You find me beautiful. You remember that my big eyes are an asset. My trauma is adulterous.

You do not understand the dance between Carnatic and the music made in Compton back allies.

You who read poetry, can you walk on my tight rope? 

Do you know the smell of eucalyptus on a mangal morning? 

Do you know the pain of a mourner on Ashura? 

Do you know the dance we do in between worlds on worlds? Between child and adult? Between devotee and devil? Do you know how we constantly converge the sacred and profane? Do you know how we make art of our trauma, our very specific trauma, to the beat of cintoor and ranasringa? 

My poetry means nothing to you. My trauma is scandalous. 

It is coated thick in turmeric. It is coated in the muscle of Martyrs.

You who study with passion, what do you know of unrelenting optimism? What do you know of choice and challenge? 

How will you tell me to keep my story silent? How will you tell me to be appropriate?

Me, child the color of the earth that feeds you? Woman the color of the mountains that house you? Devotee the color of your first and true gods? She who glides on tight ropes between worlds? 

 I ask you questions knowing the answer exists in them already. He who's knows the poverty of a white man would spit out the poverty of a colored woman's. He is not equipped to handle something so strong.