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In her poem “For Peshawar,” Fatimah Asghar writes, “Every year I manage to live on this earth / I collect more questions than I do answers.” The questions her poems ask are painful, but necessary: “How do you kill someone who isn’t afraid of dying?” “Are all refugees superheroes?” “Do all survivors carry villain inside them?” Her poetry does not provide answers but encourages questions; does not instruct but still teaches; does not conform to but challenges existing ideas. Her poetry is self-aware in the most hospitable way. The poet’s view of the world and her place within it is made visible to us. She says, “I am here.”

—Emily Yoon



Super Orphan


Today, I donned my cape like a birth
certificate & jumped, arms wide into the sky.

I know—once there was a man.
Or maybe a woman.

Let’s try again: once, there was a family.
What came first?

What to do then, when the only history
you have is collage?

Woke up, parents still
dead. Outside, the leaves yawn,

re-christen themselves as spring.

Lets try again. Once there was a village
on a pale day, unaware of the greatness

at its gate.

Today, I woke:
Batman, a king over Gotham.

The city sinning at my feet
begging to be saved.

The same dream again:
police running after my faceless
family with guns

my uncle leaps into a tulip
filled field, arms turning to wings
as bullets greet him.

Today, I woke, slop-lipped
and drunk, cards in my hand,

Joker in my chest. Today I woke
angry at the world for its hurt

wanting to make more like me.

Are all refugees superheroes?

Do all survivors carry villain inside them?

Today, I donned my cape like a birth
certificate & jumped, arms wide into the sky.

How else to say I am here?





For Peshawar

December 16th, 2014

Before attacking schools in Pakistan the Taliban sends kafan, a marking
of Muslim burials, as a way of psychological terror.

The white linen arrives to school
A gift to begin wrapping the bodies.

They send flowers before guns now
all the thorns plucked from the stems.
An order to weave the dirge

before the mortar sings. The moment
our babies are born, are we meant

to lower them into the ground?
Every year I manage to live on this earth

I collect more questions than I do answers.
In my dreams, the children are still alive

at school. In my dreams they still play
unaware of what is coming.


I wish them only a mundane life.
Arguments with parents. Groundings.

Chasing a budding love around the playground.
Iced mango slices in the hot summer.

Lassi dripping from their lips.
Fear of being unmarried. Hatred of the family

next door. Kheer at graduation. Fingers licked
with henna. Blisters on the back of a heel.

Pulling hair off a friend’s arm.
Loneliness in a bookstore. Fingerprints

on spine. Walking home with the sun
at their backs. Searching the street

for a missing glove. Nothing glorious.
I promise. Just, alive.



I lose track of whom I am begging.
Each please

a vast cave I fear when its depths answer.
I scream

& hear only the sound of my own haunting.
I will believe

in any god that offers me a new beginning.
I will believe

in any god. Man, metal or magic.


My friend’s voice lands, a bird shriveled with sorrow.
She is visiting the houses that once had children.

We are too busy trying to separate the good terrorists
from the bad.

The line hums. The silence a simmer across mountains.
Again, I hear the bird ruffle its wings. A worm twists
in my throat.

How do you kill someone who isn’t afraid of dying?

The line hums.


I didn’t know I needed to worry
about them until they were gone.


My uncle gifts me his youngest memory:
a parking lot full of bodies

screams & a forest waiting to protect.
In all our family histories, one wrong

turn & then, death. Violence
not an over there but a memory asleep

in our blood, waiting to rise.
We know this from our nests—

the bad men wanting to end us.
Every year, we call them something new.

British. Americans. Indians. Hindus. Terrorists.
The steady dirge of our hearts pounding

vicious, as we prepare the white
linen, as we ready to wrap our bodies.


Fatimah Asghar is a nationally touring poet, photographer and performer. She created Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first Spoken Word Poetry group, REFLEKS, while on a Fulbright studying theater in post-violent contexts. She has performed on many stages, including the Dodge Poetry Festival, The Nantucket Project, and TedX. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY Magazine, The Paris-American, Drunken Boat, and Word Riot. She is a member of the Dark Noise Collective and is a Teaching Artist for Young Chicago Authors. Her chapbook After is forthcoming on Yes Yes Books fall of 2015.

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