my fingers still remember the days-old-stubbles
They took Ba before he could finish his lunch, Mami says. I do not remember the men. I cried myself sick, Mami also says. I do not remember the tears. Eldest Cousin Brother trailed the van across Kathmandu backstreets on a bicycle so that Ba did not vanish into thin air. He might have recounted the story then, I do not remember.
I remember holding Mami’s hand, walking through one gate, then another. I was wearing my one good frock. Mami was wearing sari—the black one with big flowers, I think. A guard wrote Mami’s name as tanna instead of panna, transforming her to bedsheet, from emerald. I remember the precocious child feeling smug that she knew the difference. I remember Ba squatting down, eye-level with me.
I remember touching his face across the bars.
I was too young to know about Mandela, Garvey, Peltier, King. I was decades away from reading the words of Angela and Assata. I did not yet understand that some dreams could be deemed so dangerous that they needed to be caged.
Miles and years removed, details have dissolved. But my fingers still remember the days-old-stubbles on Ba’s always-clean shaven-face.
This poem is published as part of A World Without Cages, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s ongoing project on The Margins that imagines the end of mass incarceration and migrant detention by bringing together the work of writers on the inside and on the outside. This project aims to nurture writers, activists, and intellectuals to dream new worlds beyond punishment, policing, surveillance, segregation, and exclusion. Read more in the project here.