A Space for Writers of the World
Dear JFK, I write to your statue because the police ordered us to move, since our protest was disturbing it. Therefore, even dead you are more important than actual lives. The gold standard of privilege. You must have been able to see us after we relocated, as your statue is the tallest thing in the plaza (our city’s way of repenting for your assassination). Do you remember me, sir? Little nine or ten year old girl in a green jacket. Chanting with the best of them because I was taught that my voice mattered. Did you see him, too? He rode by in a limousine, parading through as though he wasn’t running from his own country, as though he couldn’t hear us screaming at him. Almost. The presence of several bodyguards said what he was hiding. Did you see me shaking? Did you call him president even though he was never elected? What about my father? Was he scared? Me and you and my brother, we can’t understand people like my father. We do not know watching TV, waiting for the ad to be over only to see your friend’s street littered with bullets, we do not know becoming a doctor only to scream at the bodies on the news, we do not know waking up to a new President, or a new grave, or a new country. All his “politically inactive” friends told him to stop. Said it was easy, said Pakistan deserved whatever happened and they were just grateful they escaped in time. They tell my father to die in different words. And every time he becomes calming answering machine with recorded message, recites tired lines about restoring a true democratic system, about bringing back the Pakistan that he remembers, about a persistent ghost that will not fade away. But there are some things you cannot restore. I remember blue skies and cricket on a rooftop with a Powerpuff doll as a wicket and scary jinn stories. Our car is too full so my brother has to sit on the floor and I know we are not fighting for a reunited country but a reunited family. I don’t understand what martial law really is. I just want a rematch of capture the flag because my cousin cheated the first time, but he’s in another country and our parents don’t talk anymore. Sure, we’re still fighting over Kashmir, but my family has its own disputed land to scream about. We are here for the possibility that someone else’s family won’t be splintered while trying to escape. So I’m sorry we had to be disruptive in front of your memorial. There isn’t a memorial for our broken homeland and I hope there never will be. A memorial entails that all the beautiful parts are destroyed. Mr. President, I’m apologizing to your statue right now, so you must understand. Just because you can rebuild some things doesn’t mean that you can bring them back.
Watching the news feels like playing the lottery / how familiar will the dead look to me today / the channels have given up on finding footage / Pakistani death is so common there is no way to keep up / so we squint at animated catastrophes narrated in Urdu / alternating between drone attacks and suicide bombings / sometimes I think the Taliban and the American government / are competing to see who can kill my people off the fastest / I have been teaching myself how to read Urdu / I practice on the foreign channels / only vestige of home my parents have left / or, the only way to say goodbye / to watch your country as it tears itself apart / the first words I (re)learn to read in Urdu: / حکمران: politician, اسلامباد: the capital city of Pakistan, and دهسۛت گرد / دھسۛت: the kind of fear you can only bear to experience once / fear that excavates the oxygen from your lungs / by lighting your body on fire / دهسۛت گرد :he who conjures دھسۛت / he who brings both death that births fear / and fear that infects the air with death / he who perpetuates an infinite cycle of grief / in English: a terrorist / in English, the killing of Muslims is often not called terrorism / Pakistan, 68 year old nation holding a heavy résumé / survivor of multiple wars / land that swallowed my grandfathers / too busy to warn my parents / 35th largest area cradling the world’s second largest refugee population / only a country so full of life could be capable of withstanding this much carnage / haven of both desert and snow / beautiful country I do not deserve / country that even miles away / teaches me its language through a screen / Pakistani news channel, or, only place you can see news anchors dancing / in the studio when Pakistan wins a cricket match / or, place of constant mourning / news anchors wearing black ribbons in memory of their fallen / to the murdered and missing journalists of Pakistan: / you are unparalleled in your bravery / in your love for your country / you were so committed to this soil you did not stop working / until someone buried you with it / even then your words refused to die / you were deprived of your right to say goodbye / may this world one day / deserve your dedication to the truth