zaynab shahar



on the day you left

I suckled strawberry seeds

between my teeth

saplings germinate on my tongue

I swallow

and taste you

with each harvest

that comes to pass




TSA don’t bother me none

this time around

I hobble down

the disassembly line

ignoring the pat downs

that throw off hard fought equilibrium

the cold linoleum floor

sending ice all the way up

to the base of my spine


I field ignorant questions

about whether my cane

is a weapon of mass destruction

and do my locs

contain concealed explosives




four days

after my arrival

I find you in the kitchen

I don’t wait for wine

before kissing

the back of your neck

I’ve counted time

in post cards with foreign stamps

and seeds sent from faraway places

waiting for this moment to come

I long to revisit your body

the way I do in my dreams

where I subsist on strawberries

and the nourishment of your beauty



the last night of my visit

our legs lay intertwined

like roots beneath

the blanket of our earth


you ask to remain my quiet place

pleading with promises

of solitude and rest

I mourn each word

falling from my lips

that tells you

I have to go back

cause too many folx

depend on me to



and act

the fuck up





i fasted for thirty days

forsaking food, flesh, drink

prayed from dawn

till sun

left its widow’s peaks


i bathed in the tears

of mothers who birthed more

than they ever anticipated

and yet

i still couldn’t get the smell of you

out of my skin

from the last time

you exhaled between my legs


and they tell me

I forsake God for you

wild woman, reckless woman

tarnished by the mark

of a disbelieving tongue

I am beyond salvation


my mother recites

janazah[1] in absentia

fearing hellfire herself

it’s difficult to disown a child

for their transgressions

when they refuse to disappear


on the last day

raised on a rock

perched in prayer

I charge myself

by the light

of waning gibbon’s smile

reciting until my voice is horse

and tongue is numb



in the name of

everything you are to me



in the name of

everything I’ve

gained and lost

at once



in the name of

everything unspoken

and yet still known

the name and the named


I burn your name in effigy

written 77 times

on shards of paper

hands cracked and broken by blood

I lose count of how many times

your name is misspelled

or words are slurred

as tear drops fill altar bowls


the memory of you

spurns my best attempts at forgetting

refusing to be burnished from my skin

phantom hand prints

as embedded as stretch marks

as the blood and bone

that make us possible

I am haunted by you

even in moments

where I remain convinced

I have nothing left

to give to ghosts


and they tell me

I forsake God for you

wild woman, reckless woman

sullied beyond repair


I wash myself in ashes

smoke finds the corner

in the qibla’s shadow

where sacred regularly meets profane

I kneel

and await redemption


[1] Muslim funeral prayer


[zaynab shahar is a queer black sufi Muslim. Born and raised in Evanston, IL she’s currently based in Chicago, IL. She graduated from Hampshire College with a B.A in Jewish Studies and Creative Writing and received her M.A from Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS). zaynab currently divides her time between pursuing a doctorate in Religion at CTS and organizing for queer/faith projects such as Third Coast Queer Muslims and Masjid al-Rabia.]

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