Carnegie Mellon University

"Whitewash" by Indigo Baloch

Second Place for College Poetry

ankle deep in my guilt now,
i have learned what it means
to be whitewashed.

when my grandmother offers
up her labor—biryani, hot to the tongue,
i raise my hands to silence her,
chew the naan and plain rice.

she left one year ago
said her bones needed a warmth
Indian summers and Sunday brunches
could not satisfy
she calls when I am in class
and her pleas go to voicemail

i have chosen my vessel:
days spent locked away from the sun,
lemon and milk baths to bleach the flesh,
hoping I don’t end up like my father—
brown-skinned and searched at airports.
though he has made himself forget
the language of his birth

what have we done to you?
my people are those of peace.
my tribe is that of
Malala Yousufzai—
of strong-hands and students.

my grandmother is a teacher.
and when she walks the streets
of Hyderabad she is Auntie Qamar—
the woman with the college degree
from the United States.
the woman who feeds
the hollow children and stray cats.

                     the woman who married for power
and used it for good.
her portrait, at twenty
            still haunts my diary
but you ask me about Iraq
pronounce it eye-rack
and the harshness make me cringe
            these are a honey language—
made of cherry cordial and chai
meant to slip from the tongue like maple syrup
i cannot speak Urdu.
the only word I know,
means sweetheart,
dear one, beloved—
a word my grandmother
uses to address my father.
though the welts
on his back raise
a redness in his face
                                                                                    though his blood is boiling revenge
the lid of the pot quivering
we are not so beloved.
the radiant Indian princess of my youth,
smelling of jasmine and cardamom,
saffron and ginger,
heart so close to mine,
segregated from the black top.
my friends said
“she doesn’t look like us.”
now you fetishize our bindis
and henna without studying the art.
you wear our culture
as an ornament to show
how worldly and wonderful
you have become
in your 20s.
you eat my food as a treat,
though I can no longer
stomach the spice
after a lifelong diet of shame.
but when I tell you how my land
was beautiful and luscious,
full and flowing
with mangoes and honeysuckle,
green forests and gold,
before the white man
touched it with his greed,
you ask me of war
and of terrorism,
and the Quran.
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