started: july 18, 2019, the day after my 32nd birthday
published: february 28, 2020
this project is a mixtape. i've been wanting to make one for a long time, but i couldn't figure out who to make one for, so i made one for myself. each song is paired with some liner notes, loosely themed around nostalgia, trauma, my body, bodies of water, the beach, pleasures, my best guy Dan Hill, my mother, aunties, being queer, being muslim, being a bad muslim, family, grief, anger, language, and the fraught and challenging concept of home.
you can listen to the mixtape on spotify here.
thank you for reading.
- Kijiti - Bi Kidude
- Cada Día - Kibi James
- Summer Cold - Bedouine
- Haunted Water - Spellling
- mirrored heart - FKA twigs
- Let My Baby Stay - Amandla Stenberg
- Hotel Home - Molly Nilsson
- drink i'm sippin on - Yaeji
- I'm Every Sparkly Woman - Ana Roxanne
- فات الميعاد (Fat El Ma'ad) - أم كلثوم (Oum Kalthoum)
track 1: Kijiti - Bi Kidude
title: COBRA POSE FOR BEGINNERS
in class we were asked to pose in sujud
to inhale intentions and let out hisses
from deep in the backs of our throats
heavy like the ح you made me gasp
over and over until i was lightheaded
and so: Arabic was the first breath i learned to carry in my body
–the first fruits i tended to myself
i just had to learn to do it without coughing
or choking or strangling
by calloused hands with blistered skins
and like that: I taught myself to اِقْرَأْ
to prostrate down to worship myself at all costs
do you hear me: AT ALL COSTS
when you named me
with an i
with an i
with an i
with an i
you hoped i would never learn there was more than one
that i would never read from other chapters
and find the spaces between
and fill them with my heavy hisses
don't forget the i
don't forget the i
don't forget the i
don't forget the i
how could i learn any other way? first i had to teach myself
how the letters fit together
–this is how she first learns of pleasure
and then i had to learn to like it.
next, i taught myself how to wield it like a fucking sword.
it begins with ا
it begins with ا
it begins with ا
it begins with ا
when i remember the sound of her cackle,
i remember how it pushed up against the walls
threatening to run wild in the streets
like the spirits of my titas and aunties
who were all shoved back into their bottles
how dare they love themselves and learn to spell out joy
without asking first
by sounding out the vowels–
sputtering and spitting
they'd guess if they had to
scribbling in the margins
and giving away their thoughts
and taking up empty space
and leaving behind whispers of unknowable
–the worst sin of them all.
track 2: Cada Día - Kibi James
title: title: FREE SWIM
these days I feel detached and disoriented,
I try to be patient with myself as my burning moon screams
NOW NOW NOW NOW
it feels like it took me 30 years just to learn to float
in the stillest safest waters.
now that there are currents rushing past, it is time to rouse that stillness:
chest up belly out eyes tracing the sky
until you reach the shore
you can reach out your arms, when you are ready
others are building castles and I yearn for
the feel of sand under my nails
and in all my hair
the grit feels familiar, like home,
the discomfort lingering far longer than–
and in all your pockets and folds and skins
rubbing you raw until the sheen is bright and makes you squint
and makes you clench tight
if you walk slowly, you won't sink their moats
and tender steps won't tumble their walls
the sand is hot on your soles,
but maybe the treads will teach you lessons that you won't forget,
track 3: Summer Cold - Bedouine
title: COMFORTS OF HOME
the first time I felt at home in myself,
I was rewarded with blood.
my mother (the ocean) shoved me to my knees
and made me taste my own cold metal.
scraps of me were left behind on the shore and washed out with the tide
leaving behind ripe berries on my knees
because this is a lesson I need to remember to the day I die.
you thought you were telling me something I did not already know
in my deepest marrows
as if the kaperosas hadn't been shrieking their warnings to me
worried i wouldn't hear them across 7,000 miles, 12 hours, 2 empires, and every channel between every island that ever stood between us
like men in dark basements
between me and the exit
you thought i didn't hear you when you told me to light my candles behind the pews
and tuck envelopes of cash between my sweaters
nestled next to the bottle of Estee Lauder Pleasures you saved for years,
only dabbled on humbly for special occasions
you should have bathed in it,
soaked down through your soles atop that throne of yours
built one yes ma'am at a time
instead of it sitting under dust and its plastic liner
waiting for you to celebrate yourself
you never taught me to sit with my back straight and my legs crossed
my head still so my crown would reach to the sky
instead, you watch my shoulders cave and cower
your focus on peeling the pith
if nothing else: you would not let the lebug fester
so I could feel the cold water
shivering all throughout our ritual
I learned to keep my Pleasures humble and hidden
to light my candles in secret
(if you could: don't light them at all,
just imagine the flicker and glow in your silence and spite)
I begged you to bathe in it
so I learned how to drench myself.
in the perfumed waters, I can start to unwind
the spool of cut threads I would look for on the beach
–between the rocks you would hoard in your sleeves
–a coarse grain for my thin skin
and mend for myself the patches I've collected in small piles
and soak in saltwater
(only during business hours)
to regrow the skins I've shed along the way.
track 4: Haunted Water - Spellling
title: EVERYTHING I WANT MY PARENTS TO KNOW BEFORE THEY DIE
i think of you both everyday, whether i want to or not:
my spindly fingers still try to emulate Luchie's playful cursive, both of us finding joy in writing and typing and crosswords and secret diary entries,
but also in the constant picking of scabs and dry flakes of skin, just the tiniest hint of my inherited momento mori.
some angles bring out my father's jowls, more pronounced after a bad night's sleep,
my face is mercurial, at once too round and gummy when i throw back a laugh, and also too old and contorted when i frown, like the disdain i imagine on my grandfather's face when refusing to hold his only grandchild who learned to read from left to right.
i feel you in every kissing scene you used to fast forward, leaving so much dead air for me to fill
with images of me atop a throne, slowly pushing my heel into the pale freckled flesh of my latest obsession.
and, i feel you in the ache of hearing my peoples' tongues, trying to follow the familiar tones as i find myself caught between all these islands, a warm and sunny and humid place, but instead getting lost in the tall trees unable to find my way home.
imagine my surprise when i found my home on the wrong side of the planet:
the tall palms were the same, and also the pale plunderers.
I knew it was home because the grief was so familiar, my own sweat stinging my seeping skin, shredded and torn from carrying behind me the thick tethers of family ties and knots
-these ropes held together our barangay, she once said
-binding her two homes on the same street
-and his two homes along the same sea
-and somehow i ended up with two half homes on the opposite ends of a broken stolen country that's never really wanted me here anyway.
why did you show me to grasp for vines that strangle
instead of the lush abundant boughs supported by tan, hairy arms
who are ready to catch me when I finally grow tired of clawing my way through?
why didn't you tell me that the way to stay afloat is to keep my back straight?
you never did get in the water with me. i had to read your lips, sinking and sputtering and pleading
always from afar. i found someone who taught me anyway
-with tenderness and faith, and isn't that all you ever wanted for me anyway?
and he taught me the only way i'd understand: by reminding me how to listen to myself.
and now i trust i can keep my tiny belly poking out into the hot air, and i can feel it's time to get into the shade,
or feed my pangs of hunger, or the need for cathartic cries, or to write or to rest or to scream and moan until my throat is hoarse.
and to lick every salty sour morsel of mango pickle off my fingers and to drink sweet warm chai even though I'm so full I can hardly breathe-
just so abundant, and rich
i'm sorry i did this to you-
that i showed you joy and that i did not give up on my desires no matter how much you warned me not to smile,
your gaze trying to erase from my memory those glimpses of autonomy but
-I'm sorry I found things that made those hellfires worth it, that I choose to celebrate and cum instead of a quiet joyless mourning for the lives we were forced to leave behind,
in those carefully packed boxes of trinkets and souvenirs that wouldn't fit in our two suitcases, even though you packed for three, even though i didn't count then, not when you needed me to
-but why shouldn't I get to dance, too?
when did you forget you are worthy of this, too?
i did not think i could shout it any louder
-besides, maybe i'm just not saying it right
-besides, you've got needles in your ears.
track 5: mirrored heart - FKA twigs
title: A BRIGHT RED ELECTRIC COIL
I start all my notes on the right side of the spine,
and carry the spillover to the left.
I can't even get my thoughts to follow the same direction
imagine my frustration: I am betraying my own beginnings and ends with interruptions
afterthoughts full of question marks
all scribbled outside the margins
I make sounds with my scorched tongue
I've had to stitch together from whatever scraps I could find
I try to remember with scrawls by a branded hand
I'm not sure how to say my name out loud:
depending on where you glot your throat,
it can mean happy, or lion. (or so I've been told)
I think I asked once, but I've either forgotten or I've torn out the page
but I make sure I know how to pronounce it both ways, just in case.
I chose to spell my name with just the one S
so I don't remind you of the big dictator,
and instead I carry with me my own history's little dictators,
one who refused to hold me as a baby,
and one who bestowed on me the holiest destiny he could imagine
which I promptly crumpled into a ball and burned to ashes
so I could write my own.
the first act of tenderness I can remember was from a stranger in a dark room full of sweat and beer
the crowd surged forward and I landed on hands and knees before I was lifted up
by a man's gentle hand on my back: reassurance and safety
and (above all)
to rejoin the pilgrimage
the first act of tenderness to myself was a thin silver chain, which I used to build my altar:
the slow gathering of threads and leaves
became my kindling for a nest made of sand.
it needs to withstand the heat and the sweat
and my rage
and it needs to tend to itself so I never lose sight of the direction of جهنم [that inferno]
I promise to only prostrate down before myself
—I'm writing it down now so I can commit
to never place my book on the ground,
and to never let anyone's feet come anywhere close to it.
my story was born in the desert,
so it could never take root,
I was told to run between two palms
back and forth and restless, to beg for water
so instead I conjure into the choking hot air my own ripples
a mirage, a respite
to wish to life my own idols and saints
so that whenever I lift my forehead, I can see
my pasts and my futures on unending scrolls before me
burning on the left
and unfurling on the right
with only the flames to keep up.
track 6: Let My Baby Stay - Amandla Stenber
title: LOVE, RED
i tried to explain the shahadah to you once, stuttering half memories together to try and share some of me, but in the end (after all that) all I could do was compare it to a magic spell, and that was enough.
when I'm with you, it feels like we've invented our own languages and maths and sciences, and we keep our notes in our own calligraphy filled with symbols only we can decode.
and it feels like
we have all the time in the world, and all the time from worlds before that, and all the time in worlds to come, knowing that we've found each other each time before and will find each other across the eons to come.
and in each of these eons, we'll do what we've always wanted to do, and what we've always done: we'll make up lyrics and sing them loudly, and we'll stretch and run and find crab claws on the beach, and we'll tend to our gardens full of wiggly worms and tubers and pulses and heartbeats and tender touches and being alone together in a cozy quiet room testing our small experiments and taking notes every time we see a tiny spark of life.
- to my best guy.
track 7: Hotel Home - Molly Nilsson
title: FIVE PILLARS
I was raised in half a house
paid for with flames
and with thick coils of smoke trailing an empty desert path
and old newspapers soaked in gray snow and the salt shaken
loose from between the treads of your worn left sole.
we drew the blinds at sundown so no one could spy on our prayers
but no light could get in during the day anyway
not with all the oil that tarred the walls
not with the air so thick with spite that all the plants withered
(how could they grow in that cold and empty house?)
every night, I made sure the same words were the last to leave my mouth: my desperate recitation
slurred together to plead to wake, for another day of fumbling through the fog
in my sleep, I dream of the same made up places:
one night, I learn what's down one hallway, and so the next time, I can wander down another.
over time, I can find all the rooms I'm looking for.
these spaces give shape to my deepest worries, like old ghosts I can play in
when my bad brain is finally quiet enough to let me roam, to learn the maps and find my own way back.
it is a project of making choices and regrets
and of making different mistakes to take up my own space
instead of my waking life, where I fight against the fears that colonize my every decision:
in my sleep, I dream of agency.
I used to get lost all the time, looking to the East for men to tell me where I'm doing
but I don't think I want to go and join their throngs. I will find my fifth pillar elsewhere-
along a glorified sidewalk on a quiet night under a full moon,
along steel beams that streak the skies, breathing life into the fascia of the city,
and along the ledges of our bookshelves, where we keep all our other worlds.
and instead of circling around on the outside, I am inside and warm and at rest.
and actually, I am the holy artifact I want to face.
I call out five times a day to my jumaah I love so deeply,
and sing to them of the afterlives we'll share together, where we'll build our homes:
and this time: I can close my bedroom door all the way.
and this time: at the end of the day, I can rest.
when they dig up our remains, scrawled hastily in our diaries buried in time capsules, they will all be
half finished: we were too busy
trying to atone with cackles and tears and the scent of rose mint lavender lingering in a long, smoky tail.
track 8: drink i'm sippin on - Yaeji
title: A MODERN DAY MEZZE
see: Close Friends insta story posts on main on 2/28/20
(also available by request.)
track 9: I'm Every Sparkly Woman - Ana Roxanne
title: MARIAM YOU'RE LITERALLY AN ANGEL
(technically مريم is just the mother of a prophet [pbuh])
(but she is the only woman to have a chapter of the Qur'an named after her)
(as if one chapter could ever even be enough to begin making sense of our stories)
(with our clauses and commas and footnotes and ibids)
thank you to Missy, the patron saint of weird:
your vision and your honesty is a much needed punch in the gut to everyone who witnesses you. no one can ever know what goes on in your head and your heart, channeling all the sacred energies that sustain your art and keep you thriving. all we can do is humbly pay homage in hopes that you will keep sharing with us the divine symmetries framed by your immortal hand and eye.
thank you to umm kalthoum, the only woman my father ever loved:
finally, i am ready to receive your power. i bear witness to your uncovered hair and your immodest dress, your plump flesh and your ecstatic moans: only you can make men like my grandfather sit and wait for you to begin.
–no, not yet,
–no, you'll wait until i'm good and fucking ready,
–no, I changed my mind,
–no, what're you going to do about it,
–no, prove it,
–no, now make me really believe it, you dirty fucking slut,
–no, now do it again.
thank you to my tita felicia, who had to leave to keep me safe:
you looked out for me and made sure I learned to stop reaching for vines that grow from rotted trees. you showed me to be shrewd and smart and to spit out the berries before the poison hit my veins. every day, i open my mouth and let out freely my giggles and joy, my fearlessness and my vulnerability, and that i can thrive as my own half, and my own whole.
thank you, teta, for understanding me in perfect silence:
you always made sure i ate, and that i was so stuffed of pleasures and the earth and roasted root vegetables. you wouldn't ever let me forget the restorative properties of tangerines on a summer day: of cool breezes in warm oceans, who will sting you if you are caught leering too long. i will never know your loneliness, but then again, you made sure i would never have to.
track 10: فات الميعاد (Fat El Ma'ad) - أم كلثوم (Oum Kalthoum)
title: BUILDING NEW HOMES FROM THE ASHES OF THE OLD
exercise: imagine one of your closest friends in front of you saying "it's okay. i see you. i'm right here."
my homes are in:
- the first sip of a fresh cup of chai, lovingly made by my best friend as we settle into her couch and Glenn hops up on my lap
- when I push through a wall on a run and feel myself fill up my lungs and feel my lungs expand to hold me
- the momentum of the first conversation of a new friendship
- that crook of smooth skin behind your ear down to your neck
- when I first submerge under the salty horizon of a hot bath
- when our rhythms together hit that peak crescendo
- Chester St and Daniel St and Virginia Ave and Eastern Parkway
-the fluidity of writing a sentence with a .38 gel pen in the purple they don't make anymore
-behind the bar at an all ages show looking annoyed but secretly so proud and gushing with joy while just a tiny bit buzzed
- when you bite off the husk and give popcorn to the cat, patiently waiting
- when you write a sentence on the first try and just know it won't need any editing
- reading a sentence for the third time in a row because you're in disbelief that a mere mortal can have such an elegant grasp of the English language
- a juicy bite of perfectly ripe watermelon, or mango, or papaya (ideally, all three)
- their gratitude as they eat your cooking
- when the cat comes under the covers and her purrs echo in my chest