IF THEY COME FOR US: BOOK REVIEW
Home is so close yet so far for many diasporans; oftentimes, home is strongly tied to grief and death. Our unique identities add to the complexities of what it means to exist outside of a home that we no longer live in or are forcibly detached from. Fusing her personal experiences and individuality, Kashmiri/Pakistani/American poet Fatimah Asghar takes us along on her journey as she navigates life in If They Come For Us.
Right from the start, we are exposed to Asghar’s world as it is being torn at its seams. She speaks of Kashmir and the inevitable violence, the persecution that comes with being Kashmiri. There are multiple poems throughout her book titled “Partition” that allude to the political backdrop of her familial and personal history. But partition carries several meanings, and separation takes on many forms— that is what Asghar reveals. Not only does she hone into Kashmir, but she discusses her life in the United States. As a Muslim woman of color, home and comfort are not easy to find.
So much of my love for her poetry stems from the interwoven moments of the gendered experience that Asghar endured. She discusses the impact that men have had on her bodily experiences and speaks for the women as a collective as well, processing self-worth and acceptance beyond desirability and norm. She speaks about womanhood and her femininity but at many points, she blends into her masculinity. The imagery we are presented with is so extremely powerful. I found my own self mirrored in her words as she defied boundaries and traditionalism.
In the many readings I’ve indulged in, I often feel that authors separate gender and sexuality from their lived experiences although the two always go hand-in-hand. Especially from a multicultural perspective, this is often avoided and understandably so. But Asghar does not allow that to limit her storytelling, echoing what audience members like me have seen and felt for such an extensive amount of time. She uses gender as a tool to recount memories, explaining them through such a raw, unrestrained manner.
Regardless of whether or not you feel echoed in her work, there is room for sympathy and compassion as her words reverberate throughout your entire being. Asghar is so open about her life, speaking about the passing of both of her parents. She became an orphan at the age of five years old, losing her mother to cancer as a one-year-old and her father to a heart attack only a few years after. Asghar carries their essences throughout the book and imbedds their spirits within various poems and stanzas. In “Kal”, we learn of the deep love she has for her mother.
“I am merely asking for what
is mine. Give me my mother for no
other reason than I deserve her.
If yesterday & tomorrow are the same
pluck the flower of my mother’s body
from the soil.”
Her declarations and assertiveness, paired with tenderness, create a voice of beauty and strength. Persona shines through all that is written. At multiple points, I felt like we were in the same room as she read to me line-by-line.
Individuality is one of many qualities present in Asghar’s writing. Innovation is another. Even in the structure of her poems, some are formulated in unusual ways. For instance, “Map Home” is illustrated and formatted like a crossword puzzle. “Microaggression Bingo” is structured in the form of bingo. There are no creative boundaries: she not only thinks outside the box but completely reshapes it.
There is skill in her craft, but there is also humanity in all that she does. Asghar has molded my experience as a reader tremendously and has altered my perception of what it means to be a contemporary poet. Most importantly, she has taught me the power of self-depiction.