11: Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine’s School for Girls

11: Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine’s School for Girls

11: Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine’s School for Girls

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Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine’s School for Girls

by Tarfia Faizullah

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

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, shows up, a crocus
bristling through snow. She’s 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 pretty girls
singing, arms pale and slim as the white
birch whose branches, dappled with gold,

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

and still I want 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 one.

"Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine’s School for Girls" from "Registers of Illuminated Villages" by Tarfia Faizullah. Copyright © 2018 Graywolf Press.