Creative Work Poetry

A Smile without a Shield

by Jazzib Akhtar
“There’s something about experiencing racism in real time, it often comes at times when you don’t expect it.
What is it about 12 weaponizing everything?”

On March 15, 2019, a gunman open fires on a mosque in New Zealand, and kills 50 people. The whole thing is live streamed with a go-pro like a video game.

At Friday prayer the day after the shooting in New Zealand, there are guns standing guard at my mosque as we congregate.

After praying, we are told to disperse because to be congregated is to invite a massacre 

Where do we go if we can’t go to the mosque?

If the mosque isn’t the place to be, is any place worth being at?

On March 7, 2019, at a UH basketball game, a cop walks by our section and stops.

Our Cougar red and our seats in the student section do not protect us for what’s about to happen next.

 The lights in the arena are bright and the music is loud, one moment you’re jamming to Mo Bamba and taking pictures with your friends when a cop walks by your visibly muslim section and stops.

 Everything fades into the background when he points and says “She’s smiling at me, I’m scared”

There’s something about experiencing racism in real time,

it often comes at times when you don’t expect it.

What is it about 12 weaponizing everything?

His finger is a dagger twisting its way into me

Everything slows down and my eyes dart towards at the girl and back towards the cop

The problem is, I can’t bring myself to gaze back at the cop, he might come after me too

The slow motion is only there to feel the effect of his words.

I try to make the connection between his finger pointing and his declaration

I know he wasn’t talking to me, then why do his words pierce through?

 but I look at myself, there’s no wound.

 The moment melts away and suddenly, you’re back to reality.

The lights are bright again, Mo Bamba is still playing.

You look around and everything is the same.

The cop has moved on but you haven’t

I’d forgotten that there are no shields.

Nothing to hide us.

We will remain a headline

 The Feds will continue to spy on us.

 while thoughts and prayers will still be the currency of each tragedy.

I’ve rewatched the video of the shooting three times,

And each time I want to tell them to run the other way, I want to be their shield.

All I can do is learn their names.

After I return to reality, there’s a whiplash from the previous moment,

And you struggle to remember whether or not it really happened.

One look at my friends is all I need to know.

About the Writer: Jazzib Akhtar is a Houston-based Pakistani-American writer and poet, he is a senior at the University of Houston majoring in Political Science and National Security Studies. He is also an organizer and artist who uses his work to find intersections between art and structural inequity. Apart from being the co-founder of UH’s first poetry slam team and spoken word community, when he is not working on his craft he can be found hitting game-winners at the rec.

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