If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar
Published by One World on June 26th, 2018
“he’s not my president but I live
in a country whose sun is war
we keep rotating around its warmth
our faces, sun-kissed, each & every morning.”
CW: genocide, rape, domestic abuse
April is National Poetry Month! My pick for this month was something I kept seeing at Indigo as well as on Goodreads since it was nominated for the award last year.
For a debut poetry collection, I was very impressed. Asghar’s poetry and prose capture the experience of what it’s like living in America as a Pakistani Muslim woman. She explores themes of identity, violence, sexuality, and healing.
I couldn’t necessarily relate to her work, but I empathize with her. Her poems about grappling with growing up as a woman without a mother were powerful. Navigating life while having a target on her back was heartbreaking.
But most of all, I appreciated the way she explored violence and how it continues to be inherited across generations and how it manipulates our identity.
I’m not an expert on the Kashmir conflict, but I got a sense of how it was through the eyes of people who directly experienced it.
Most of the Partition poems were hard to read. Asghar used graphic language and vivid imagery to show how brutal warfare can be. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything — and even then the horrors are most likely even worse than what she portrayed.
I always appreciate when poets reinvent the standard format of poems. One of the Partition poems is a Mad Libs game. There’s a microaggression bingo chart and a crossword puzzle called “Map Home.”
The change in format adds a level of tongue-in-cheek humour without ever taking away the seriousness of the subject matter. If you’re a POC, you will especially enjoy the microaggression bingo poem. It’s hilarious and very relatable. I guarantee that you’ve probably experienced about half the things on there.
Another standout from the collection was a poem about how aggressive people can be when asking “Where are you from?” It was a chart outlining what they say, how they say it, and what they actually mean.
You know how insidious this question can be and it never fails to make POC uncomfortable.
I’d recommend this for people who are looking to expand beyond the poetry of Amanda Lovelace and Rupi Kaur. Even though I love those two poets, I think Asghar has tapped into something different. The poems are a bit longer, they dig a little deeper beyond the surface, and they can be more difficult to consume.