A Change of Heart

Maybe Tin Man had been the one to go to the witch. Begged for a new body, one that would armour him against sweetly smiling Munchkin girls, forgetting that the brain is not the only organ that remembers. When the witch took his arms, his new gleaming ones had no memory of the way it felt to wrap himself around flesh that parted and gave to his own, and he wondered why his chest seemed to hurt more than ever. He still had the bruises on his knees from falling down to beg her to stay when they were replaced with cold shining tin, and he forgot the way he would fold himself down to kiss her forehead each morning. It was a puzzle to him why he had stayed as long as he did. Finally she took his heart and with it the memory of pain, so he forgot what it why he went to her in the first place. As he chops wood, rusts away in waiting, he wonders what love is like, and how it would taste.
A Change of Heart

my daughter fell in love with her gingerbread boy.
black gumdrop eyed sugary smiling gingerbread boy.
giggled as she lifted him from his plastic wrapping.
whispered secrets to him. stole wet kisses
and licks of sweet flesh. left her toys unwrapped
under the tree and snuggled up to him in her sheets.
woke up the next morning screaming.
he was missing a limb. with a mouth full of crumbs
she cried. baked a new leg (paler brown
and lumpy) that she glued on with icing.
swore to him that she would never hurt him again.
i told her to play with her dolls. that gingerbread boys
were only meant to be eaten but she told me
that was how she knew she loved him
– that she wanted him to kiss and cuddle
more than she did in her stomach.
one night i walked into her room to find her
cramming her tear-streaked mouth with sticky brown flesh,
promising that the next time she would love harder.

Write a poem about a Christmas past in which you (or someone you know) had your/their heart broken. Make it up if you have to.
#stealthbonus – don’t refer to any of the usual trappings associated with X’mas, but evoke the season anyway.


The Things He Doesn’t Say

Imagine this. Noir-style bar,
rugged bearded men knocking back drinks,
cigarette smoke misting up the place
like an Instagram filter.
Only a bar haram la, so ok,
it’s a tea house and the men
are smoking shisha
which is somehow not haram.
Our man is alone at the counter,
speaking to his drink.
“I had a girlfriend once,” he says,
this paragon of Islamic virtue
until a storm of a girl came along
and undid it all.
The men around him gasp, and huddle closer
like aunties gossiping at a playground.
He takes a deep drag of shisha,
then exhales it so the white smoke frames his face.
“I had this girlfriend once,” he says,
while the men huddle around, nod
in sympathy, knowing where this is going,
spelling B-I-T-C-H in their own heads,
filling in the blanks with every love they ever lost.
“She was – ” he starts,
then takes another swig of tea,
not wanting to say how I scared him off
all non-Muslim girls for life
because nothing, nothing is worth
the 4am wars on skin and shame,
the accusations of drooling over other men
and tearful denials, the crying over unresolvable families.
When an unstoppable force meets
an immovable object, the result was us
and there are only so many stalemates
you can take before you call it quits.
Wears hijab is now on the top of his checklist,
probably followed by virgin.
“It would have never worked out,” he says
to sympathetic nods, sweeping aside
our house, our bookshelves, our kitchen,
the apple-cheeked children – two girls and a boy – we built separately
in our heads and the delight we had
when we compared notes and found them the same.
He doesn’t talk about the way our life became
one giant conversation from the moment we met,
only ever broken up by mundanities like sleep;
how two people could not be closer
even when hundreds of miles apart.
He doesn’t say that he can’t
wash his face or put on his shoes
or read a book without thinking about me
even though he has said
all these things before to me.
He doesn’t say “she was my first kiss”
or “she loved me first” or “I cried
every time I left her”.
He doesn’t say “I loved her,
this whirlwind of a girl with her moods
and her fires” or “I loved her
for always fighting for what was right.”
He doesn’t say “I miss her like I would miss fajr,
I see her in other girls, I always hold them up
to see which one falls short,
I loved her when she calls
at 2am because of nightmares
I loved her when she fake scolded me for surprises
I loved her for the way she reminded me to eat and sleep and pray
I loved her the way the trees love a storm
I loved her I loved her I loved her.”
Instead, he says “We were all wrong
for each other,” and the way he shrugs shows
that this was the end.
The boys call for another round of tea,
clap him on his back.
He stares broodingly at his cup, thinks
perhaps this is his way of fulfilling the promise
he made so long ago: when he swore that one day
we would never have to say goodbye to each other

Performance here
The Things He Doesn’t Say
I just called myself and I heard myself answer. I waited, tongue-tied, wondering what my other self would hear if I spoke. If our universes would explode if I did.

They say that you hear yourself differently inside your head from the people outside. I sound shriller than I thought I did. You say hello again, annoyance sharpening the rounded sounds leaving your lips. In two seconds you would repeat yourself, and then you would hang up so I have to say something if I ever wanted to. I hear myself – my own voice – ask if you fucked yourself over as much as I have. If you are happy. I ask if you ever get a fourth shot at love. I ask if you met him yet – here I drop the name I refuse to ever say aloud, even in my head. Your breath is a well-worn ribbon, threading through the airways to wrap around my lungs. You ask who is this. You ask if I am a prank, and I know you have also walked all the wrong twisting paths I have. Our hearts speed up and I know both of us are crying. The universe did not combust, but it is pressing down hard on both our chests. We always wanted the ability to shout, to come up with the worst, most cutting things anyone could possibly say in the moment, but we can only sit still in the silence that follows, listening to each other breathe.

Friend provided me with the first two lines and asked me to figure out what happens next.

When I am done, I twist the words up, make a rope from nothing more than tender nervous sentiment, and cast it out into the sea. I wait for them to find their way to you; a line stretched spider-silk thin, which you could brush off without thinking. But still, I hope. At night, I dream of your hands and the way they curled against my skin. I think of you standing along the shore, finding a thread gleaming faintly against wet sand. That you will pick it up and hold on.


he wakes to find
the endless jack –
– hammer silenced.
squints in the light,
remembers bleeding
palms and whiskey.
a wish. chases down
the thought of dark hair
and thin red lips that
curl in the corners and
realises he can breathe
without the stone ache
of loss hanging down
his lungs. he gargles
water, eats his eggs,
throws it all up.

it continues. ulcers
from too-hot food.
blisters freckle
his feet, popping and
swelling without his
noticing. chopping
onions and painting
his kitchen red before
finding the tip of his
finger mince.

he thinks he can
make this work.
becomes a fireman
and is always the last
to leave a burning house.
his eyebrows are permanently
singed, he is a patchwork
of burns until he is fire –

– d for being a danger
to himself and the team.
he is back to the bottle
that night, wrapping lips
around glass like lovers
who will not part from
a kiss for air.
his skin stretches
tight against his bones,
yellows, he hacks
a cough that rattles
in his lungs and spits
something red out when

he sees a woman
dark haired, smile
a slash of scarlet.
his heart presses
against his chest.
then everything
– the protest of his
joints, gut, liver –
comes crashing down
but above it all he feels

the weight of stones
hanging down his chest.





I imagine that when it moves, it creeps. Slinks in and hovers around so we don’t even notice it until someone starts to cough, like the haze when it’s in season. Someone else will offer a tissue and then we go on. It’s the only explanation for why we don’t say a thing.

I listened as she listed out the names of all her friends – elite students, all of them – and finally she stopped and said “I’m not even shocked anymore, just tired.”

The time I swallowed a hundred and fifty pills and woke up in the hospital, my mother said “it’s cos you break up is it”. I told the psychiatrist the hospital sent, and then psychologist they made me see after, and I told my mother and I told my father but no one wanted to believe that while the breakup had been the trigger that everything else had been snowballing for years because no one wanted to believe an eight year old could not want to live.

My father told me that the only unconditional love in the world was a mother’s; which meant that when I scored badly for O Levels he hardly spoke to me until my A Levels could redeem my failure.

My students tell me at least one girl every batch succeeds.

One time my mother said something in me must be broken because everyone always fights to live.

Almost every scholar I know suffers from some form of depression or anxiety. Sometimes I want to point at them and say “Look Ma, this is what you wanted me to be.”

How was a child suppose to put to words that what scared her wasn’t death, it was the absolute crushing certainty that life was going to crush her.