Poems by Rabab Isa


Tongue, Not Tape


Do not laugh.

Will you please just try to listen to her
No——to hear her
after trying to tape her mouth shut
for twenty-four years

Bat not bet”————Wool not vull”————Lemon not lee-moon”

Don’t you understand?

Mama cut——her tongue
so many times
on the unforgivable edges
of this cruel, cruel language

This is not my mother tongue.
Yeh meri zubaan nehi hain.
.یہ میری زبان نہیں ہے

her lips will soon be
sewn shut
silay pura ho jayega
silenced——from fear.


Drinking Tea


Elaichi, patti, & dood
brew in a screaming kettle.
Then, Mama sips chai from her porcelain teacup
and whispers words of the Qur’an.

I take a sip,————————————grimace.
Mama always adds too much sugar.

Maybe this explains why
she ignores the bitter ayahs from the Qur’an
————(you know the ones
————the ones that say
————those who leave Islam must be killed,
————thieves’ hands are to be cut off,
————homosexuals are damned eternally,
————————just for loving————differently.
————Unmarried non-virgin girls get 100 lashes
————————branded on their backs
————————as forever whores.

O Mama, what would you say
if you knew this girl————was me?)

O Mama,
I am not an empty teacup that
you can pour your beliefs into
And expect to happily drink up.


Rabab Isa is a pre-medical undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Dallas. A Chicago native and daughter of immigrant parents from Pakistan, she is occupied by themes of immigrant experience, language transformation, and bridging medicine and poetry. This is her first time submitting work; she is unpublished.


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