Creative Work Poetry

Ashes In My Mouth

by Jazzib Akhtar
“There’s a harshness to the blue mist I’m smoking. It’s a familiar sting that lingers like unhealed scars.”

Sooooo I love smoking hookah, I’ve got the shisha game on lock son. 

Dimmed Lights. 

Coals smoldering. thick clouds embracing the room.  

I’m at Cafe Mawal enjoying this beauuuttttiiiful blue mist starbuzz shisha. 

I know the entire menu because I’ve spent more time here than I have at home. 

I know the manner in which each flavor can be mixed to form the perfect combo. 

The only assimilation I’m good at.

There’s a harshness to the blue mist I’m smoking. It’s a familiar sting that lingers like unhealed scars. 

My lungs burning, my motherland ashed. 

The way Colonizers stripped her bare and left her with nothing. 

Resources plundered and weaponized starvation. 

They partitioned what they couldn’t take and bled her dry. 

A subcontinent stifled, siphoned, silenced. 

The word shisha comes from Urdu to mean glass or mirror. 

Our past shattering into pieces, our reflections showing us burnt family trees. 

Shards that represent the broken pieces of a diaspora I can’t put back together. 

We’re scattered, meant to compromise our identities like we never had roots.

What do you do when you have to butcher your own name in order to fit in? 

Yet, I keep smoking, hitting O-rings that float up. 

I’m here every friday night because it’s the only way I can say that I come from somewhere. 

I close my eyes and I imagine that the decor is Pakistani, that the music is Bollywood and that I’m back home in my grandparents house in Karachi. 

I only need the buzz to claim the culture and each visit is like a punch card. 

One more and I can stop proving my loyalty. 

As the coals simmer, I return home for just a few puffs. 

As I sit there in the lounge, smoking my shisha, I blow out more O-rings and each time ashes spill from my mouth. 

What prayers are there for resuscitating a nation’s carcass? 

Who cleans up after the vultures have done their work? 

I was 11 years old when I looked up the definition of genocide. 

I have the privilege of sitting here smoking while my ancestors were smoked. 

I forget that I am of nobility, that the blood of princes flows in my veins, that the only thing thicker than this blood is the smoke I’m blowing. 

My roots lost behind clouds of smoke. 

I imagine Princes of the past, their shame at the sight of my american passport, I wonder what they would say to me.  

Rumi once said “There are a thousand ways to go home again.”  

I know I’m not going anywhere, so I ask for new coals and I keep smoking. 

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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