Tarfia Faizullah

Bangladeshi American

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about the author

Bangladeshi American poet Tarfia Faizullah grew up in Midland, Texas. She earned an MFA from the Virginia Commonwealth University program in creative writing. Her first book, Seam (2014) explores the ethics of interviewing as well as the history of the birangona, Bangladeshi women raped by Pakistani soldiers during the Liberation War of 1971. Faizullah received a Fulbright award to travel to Bangladesh and interview the birangona. Faizullah’s honors and awards include an Associated Writers Program Intro Journals Award, a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize, a Copper Nickel Poetry Prize, a Ploughshares’ Cohen Award, and a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Margaret Bridgman Scholarship in Poetry. A Kundiman fellow, she lives in Detroit where she teaches at the University of Michigan. Her second book is Registers of Illuminated Villages (Graywolf Press, 2018).

The Reading from the Author

Resources & Discussion

Use the following readings and prompts to inspire student writing.


Poem #1

What I Want is Simple

La terre est bleue comme un orange.

 -for Craig


Begin with the fuchsia dress

I wore the night the scent

of storm threaded the brief

wind gusting away its hem

from my thighs—begin

with this orange, moldy

in its yellow bowl by the window.

Days it has rested there,

glossy as a child after a summer

spent outside. Days I have

looked past it—to crumbling

brick walls of other buildings,

smoke from a chimney, engraved

for a moment on gray sky.

It bewilders me to have looked

at this piece of fruit without

seeing it grow its own blue

shroud. Now you, too, are

gone. In that photo, I am

a waist towards which black

hair spills. You smile towards

someone or something I can’t

see. I want back that night you

pulled me into your lap, insisted

I stay there. I want the elegant

hinge of your wrist, the way you

were always both body & bird.

The way you were never & always

listening. You were wearing

a green sweater. There is

so little to take back, receive,

give. There is, somewhere, your

green sweater. What I want is

simple: you, alive, like the day

we bought an orange like the one

I lift now from its bowl to throw

out. How many times I have looked

at the world and turned away.

(From FOUR POEMS BY TARFIA FAIZULLAH March 25, 2014. This piece was submitted by Tarfia Faizullah as part of the 2014 PEN World Voices Online Anthology.)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who is the speaker in this poem?
  2. Who is the person lost?
  3. How can you tell?
  4. What is the mood of the poem?
  5. What concrete items does the poet attach to the person?
  6. What specific physical features stand out?

Poem #2



The day an autumn orphan, and we yank roots

from Texas earth: onions, then tomatoes split open

by sun, insect, rain. This is still the one

gift we have in common: desire for bone

below flesh: excavated hedges laid bare, recalling

the loam we spring from, return to. Battered by blue

wind, you bend and pull, your blanched blue

shirt sweat-soaked, fingers wizened as ginger root

as they curl around aortas of garlic: recollections

of you always here between cloud-pungent openings

of ash trees, the love between us hard bone.

These days, you’re easy with me like one

of your patients—another girl who will have won

you over with a smile, questions about the blue-

tubed stethoscope you press against her heart, not bone

but rhythmic and radiant flesh. You’ll be gentle, root

in your labcoat pocket for a sweet she’ll open

after it’s closed into her palm. I still recall

nights no sweetness passed between us, but recall

each twilight you taught me to knit a wide, white net, one

of the only hollows unfreighted by her ghost. You open

the door, speak to me. I’m here, standing against blue

midnight, and now you see me. I swear, the roots

between us are intact, basilic as a vein of coral vine. Bone-

pale: color of her corpse in its narrow casket: bone-

pale: wet marrow of poplars in rain: recollection

of your other daughter flung from car to sky, an uncut root

between us. You are the man walking alone with one

amulet to guide you: a Qur’an, pages thumbed blue.

I’m alone in your kitchen, palming a tomato, opening

drawers for the sharpest blade to slice its red flesh open.

You are bent over a prayer mat, the horizon a thin bone

disappearing into the backyards of other families. Branch-blue,

my uncut valve the night I walked out of me away from you. Recall

that I left with only the name you gave me: the one

amulet guiding me through and back to you, its roots

ravined below the poplar you taught me to tend. Some roots we don’t

need to see. Open your palm. Recall my name, the only one I have.

Hold it steady, like each bone I wish you would forgive yourself for breaking.

(From FOUR POEMS BY TARFIA FAIZULLAH March 25, 2014This piece was submitted by Tarfia Faizullah as part of the 2014 PEN World Voices Online Anthology.)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who is the speaker of this poem and where is she?
  2. What do they have in common? List. What do they bond over?
  3. What can you tell about the father?
  4. What can you tell about the speaker’s mother? How does this affect the relationship between the seeker and her father?
  5. What is the significance of the title?
  6. Describe the relationship past and present of the speaker and father.
Now You Try

An exercise for Poem #1:

Have you ever lost someone? A relative, friend, mentor? This person might have moved away. The relationship might have ended. Or the person might have died. The point is that you mourn not only the loss of the person but the simple things associated with that person.

You might brainstorm what you wore with that person or what the person wore when you were together. Were their any gifts exchanged? Any music attached to the person? Did you eat anything together? What other concrete things do you miss that you identify with the person?

Write poem about a person you have lost and the simple things you miss about that person and your relationship.

An exercise for Poem #2:

All relationships between a parent and child are complex. But they often evolve and change especially as the child grows into young adulthood. Write a poem about your relationship with one parent or the other. Consider using the past and the present. Consider/brainstorm what activities you have in common that bind you. Consider how your parent is different with children not their own. Are their other roots that bind you? Religious, tragic events or losses? Happy events? What does bind you?

Student Model

After the Funeral

By Darby


I’d like you to look, see,
Watch the colors bleed under your eyes,
The hooves of four horses long past still rippling the brackish sea
Upon which I sit.
At once, walking on water was a miracle and a curse,
Walking, sitting, watching–
A free spirit limited by non-earthly bounds.
Reminisce, feel the heat of the memories,
Where we sat outside,
(me blowing smoke till our eyes bled)
When we were old wraiths trapped in young bodies,
The Ghost inside the Son,
Under windswept skies, vultures and rising suns,
Where clouds would race across the sky
(Heaven turns faster than her child the Earth)
When we wrote our own Apocrypha.
I miss our fuschia days and cerulean fevers,
The way your hand would grip my wrist, pulling me back in the car,
As ravens fly from our lips and crows soar from our ears,
Dogfish fighting on our skins and shark-fins gracing our collarbones,
We are the leaders of the jaded generation,
Scions to the great phantom wonders of the world.
To us, those flags and amulets meant nothing,
The stars and stripes standing for hate,
Ultraviolence the motto of La République,
Where they still conquered the natives with neglect.
I miss our narcissism,
How they would call us the sick,
As if such could be an insult
To the survivors of their anxiolytics.
But now one of us is gone:
Unable to sing our patriotism,
Sit down for their anthems,
Write our constitutions,
Or break their laws.
Oh, sweet soul,
Now that we are separated by the Styx, the Acheron, the Mnemosyne,
Now that I sit upon the throne of alabaster glass in my Cocytic kingdom,
I’d love to change the world,
Change it with you,
But I don’t know what to do–
So I leave it up to you.

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