the poetry that matters

Zarmina Rafi

Zarmina Rafi is from Lahore, Pakistan. She has a B.A. in Literature (McGill University), and a M.A. in Literature and Creative Writing (Concordia University). She writes in both Urdu and English. Zarmina is the recipient of the Chester McNaughten Prize for Creative Writing (2004), the Summer Writing Scholarship at the University of Edinburgh (2005), and the Humber School for Writers Summer Scholarship (2010). Recent performances include readings at Avantgarden Toronto, February 2011.

Selections from Wall

after     air

backbreaking     bent     bolts     break     chrysler

chuansa      cigarette     crates 

accelerator     could     green     grey     his     holes

broken     centre     chicken     country    


all     are     attempts     between      blushes    


business     carrots     cheek      children     

dust      embellishments     end     even     faraway

authority     brought     by     committed     family     figures     has     male     problem


american     apparel     at     beauty     callused     church       

did     drivers     dry?      eat     fags     gerard     girls?    

gold     hands     his     lines             

obstructed     ogle       

on     other      ryerson     sandals      shorts       

stopped     students      

taxi     the      view     wellesley     country         

fruit     hanging      in       stalls     their     wares  


a     bus     changes        clothes    

by     cheaper     days     dead          


building     by     cabbie           

chinese      dark      don't     early     eating       


cars      chance      crash   

father’s      field      flowery     for      friends     get     hands     hoping     ice     in        it   

knocked     laughter     little     looks     lose     mall     mouth        

afternoon     aisles     allah’s     alphabets        

although     among     are     astray     at     backsplash     basements   

unusual     us             

bodies     car     climes     cold     down      

end     expectations     for     getting     hours     inside     knees         

liquid      locked     lunches      mattress     mehndi       

more     odour      of     oil     packed     puke       

sinister     small     sweat

the     time      to     touch     windows          


attention     but     buttons         

chappals     choke    class     collection         

come     draw     eyes     faces      

hands     like     lips     mismatched      

plants     please     poori     rounds      

sadness     scared     teachers   wanting     welcome     you      


dark     dark     fathers      grilling     in     kebab    moustache

on     outdoor      politics     seek    sidewalk      talk     together          

does     east     eggplant?               

sounds     submerge     that    thought     through     time     transform     tripping           

distressed     empty     road      seasons     think     to     turn    

feeling     from     gone     grey     gusting     hair         

my     neck     never     not     one


father     filled     his     home     

knew      mcdonalds       

morning      of     parked     religion    

sometimes     the     thermos     was     wendy’s

father      himself     hung      it     near     parkway               


jasmine   joy     kingston     knew    main          

nothing     of     our     page     required     roads

jealous     nothing     that     touched     was 


in     no     one     out      pale 


i    injure     leaves

kheer ’s    labours     leaks     lengths      

lines     make      many     merchandise     metal             


mother’s     neck      of   onion        

other     pious     poem     puts      quality     rivets      

lost     mangoes     over     plates     round

stoop     taking           

later     lethal     ligature     like     love     mind                     

ravine     ravished     returned     rona      rope    


river      shine    through     values     was     world 

someone’s     terrible     father     from     my     pakistan            


toque      tunes      walk     with     wool  

used     whichever     working     you    

did     failures     father     something?


birds     butter     call     &     complicated     deviate     does     have     headache                        

sometimes     the     tight     toys     wanted     wheel

 cardamom     cheap     clothes      clump    coconut

could     crave     cumin     dead    

dear ’s      disaffected     dolls           


answer     beard      cohesive     community     is     moderates     moustache      none     of     outrage?    

eating      every     exhalation             

faraway     father     folding      for     future     garlic        

lovers     mar     morning                       

pure     refurbished     syllables     through     time      txt     up     whispers


after     all     alphabets     armpit     blue     boxes 

chador     claims          

enough      eyes     filled      for     gossip       

gusting     hair     in     injury         

never      our      personal    recycling     tethered    to     urdu     whipped     wind        


anyone’s      body     ever     said     to     wonderland     you?    


seeds     signal     small     sour     status      

how     howls      in    ketchup       larynx      

neck     not     only     oral    

our     place     put        retro        stars    

our     pillowcases     public     realm        

right     rumpled     scarves


every     fried     hallway     hands     her     in     mismatched     nectar      

no     one     opens    our     poem     portion

employment     façade     fingers     for     freedom        

samosa      skipping     small     sole     sullied        

gulabs     heat      her     home       

sleep    to     tongas     tractors      truck     truck         


airway     any     arm       

how     i     interfere     in      keeping      knowledge     laced  


explain      is     she’s     something     this     wearing?


kitchen     lack     legs     liberal     like     mid-heel     mid-sentence         

more     mouth      neck     noisy         

the     three       tomatoes     turn     unannounced  

clash     crunchy    dhol     from     glass     gold     hands      

hurt     in     inanimate     injure     is       killing      loud

fields     from     gift-giving     goat     green      


handmade     jewellery      marble     milk     money            

taxis       that     tread     tomorrow

change      clothes                            

come     dance                                  

old     parvez's      pearls     photo  picked                  

store     these     things    

walls     with     wooden     wraps  

control     creates     cute      damage     like     little     mind            



Wall is a long poem about Muslim girlhood. It attempts to bring to the page the stories of Muslim girls in Canada. At its core, thematically, the poem engages with the 2007 honor killing of Mississauga teen, Aqsa Parvez. Formally, the poem employs procedural experiments with alphabetic order in the poetic line. Each word in the poetic line serves as a unit/brick that creates a wall when read as a whole. At the same time Wall and “wall” are meant to be read as barriers against excessive description that one may find in conventional renderings of “exotic” peoples and/or places. The wall then serves as a barrier against the practice of constant description and explanation. Wall also hints towards the hijab object that creates visual obstruction when worn by a practicing Muslim female.  

                                                                                                                                  March 22, 2011 Bookmark and Share