‘Now, my dreams make sense and it bothers me’ and other poems

Amna Naeem

2022

Introduction

Dreamlogic is disorienting—revealing, inadvertently, the shortcomings of our waking hours. In the harsh glare of morning, any attempt at reconstruction turns into a stumble, a missed step—wasn’t it just there? In Amna Naeem’s ‘now my dreams make sense and it bothers me’ that is the sensation a reader might get. It is an “upside-down” that you rummage through, feeling slightly somnambulist, glad to have the hard edge of even a multiplication table to hold on to. I confess—I like that unsettled, unsettling feeling. Dreamscapes (which was, in fact, a working title for the poem) are terrifyingly hard to recreate in poetry. Amna’s works for me because they are unabashedly real.    

And it is that reality (only different) that splurges in ‘Anarkali Anarchy’—full of noise and smells, “veils and ogles”, verbs shifting into nouns with the scandalous ease of shucked-off slippers. As I move to the third poem, I start to see a language pattern that might eventually grow into a recognizable style. ‘Women they like’ could easily have been an opening that leads to what women like. Women they like—jhumkas? But no, that’s simply the welcome misstep in the first read. This poem is leading towards what men like to do with/for the women they like to—and here follows the stairway that leads you through the gamut of choices. Stairs seem important in Amna’s world, as do shifts that demand other eyes. ‘Dust in your lungs’, which closes this quartet, seems more measured, more stable. Is it? 

I invite you to enter, and gauge for yourself. Is nothing truly what it appears to be? Reading Amna’s poems reminds me that when we look too hard all we might see is the frame.

— Sampurna Chattarji
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Now, my dreams make sense and it bothers me

I once dreamt about an ant in glossy blue headphones,
ridiculous with its tongue stuck at the sun
and robbing the fridge of some leftovers

I chased a monster in an upside-down
that looked a lot like the bastard
that had said yes to my moaning cousin

A pageantry of don’ts would have me wet my bed
All night, I licked my shame dry

I was a cloud giving free advice and haircuts
to birds that don’t nest you

I thought, like the night sky,
some stars and a moon would complete me
but someone always turned the lights on

Once, my sister and I overboiled milk
That night I saw the milk people cry

Living in my grandfather’s fishy tank,
I grew jealous of bubbles that disappeared
sheepishly, yet everybody heard
the day’s gossip about five wooing four at the multiplication table

The first time I learned about immiscible mixtures
was the last time I stopped looking at chocolate chip cookies
as if they were made of only two things

Nothing was no longer what it appeared to be

I would pendulum my head on the edge of the crib,
lost in a reel of people who would later unlove me

My dreams wouldn’t ever be in frame,
they were always a little
too left

and
a
little
too
tall

 


 

Anarkali Anarchy

The caterpillar sold his feet on a Friday
which is when my father does not
leave for office until it’s 3:00 p.m.

So, I stay homeless, cone my hair on waferhead
ungirl myself with a gawky walk into the can of worms
outside my college; chew on my lips
till the kiss disappears and I forget
the geometry of you,
and you
and you

And I forget the ease of it,
and it
and it

I look for comfort noise
in Anarkali Bazaar; her crowd unprepared for the truth
and my ripening ass;
at the bend of the street,
the fleshy man sells both veils and ogles,
bras and panties, hung like executed prisoners
in the middle of men who smell like egg salad

To me, the zebra crossing is as good
as dead skin cells; a seismic pressure tells me
someone, today, is going to resist my bargain

Plodding through beheaded mannequins
as old as dust and danger;
Flashy jewellery, I waste my time wisely
on jhumkas — tiny chandeliers if you aren’t familiar
My lover adores me in them — his Bollywood fantasy
delicately roaming in blinding sparks;
I take advantage of my feline movements,
to grab myself the most stylish pair of khussas
that will later wrinkle my toes; still, a fair trade –
This is the liveliest cesspool that goes unexplained
under the spell of its cheap Calvin Klein cologne shops
that would otherwise knock before entering the whorehouse

The tiny dhabas brewing tea in huge cooking pots
remind me of home
What if someone sees me uninhibited
in the land of posters that gawk with
their extravagant art and strong message
Scandalous

I take my jhumkas off and put them in my bag

 


 

Women They Like

Women they like to take care of
sit with their legs branched from the same cider — crooked

Women they like to nest with
hum holy anecdotes with their plain, thick lips
and ask for permission before their nipples can well up with lechery

Women they like to hold
drown into their marrows of endless love
Mistakes are the only babies she can neither birth nor rear
She is a lone house, in a dead-end street, silly to let him in
Then he locks all the doors and assumes he lives there now

Women they like to cherish are never ugly
They sell art from their bodies as if they could
replace false bones of beauty in other women
They dream at noon and then disappear
as sweat on their wide foreheads;
they love the sky even when she is not wet and open
The ones with eyes like little windows on a casket
grateful for what he lets her see

Women they like to romance are often the ones
who are either graves or wombs,
who are either new or dead,
the kind who can steal gold out of the devil’s teeth
and please his guilt of not knowing any better

Women they like to take care of
bribe shipwrecks
for wrought ocean antiques,
and loose themselves in the arms of pirates who promise more
and they listen — always listen
while docking the breathless ocean on their coastal breasts

Men like women who can take care
of several men in them

 


 

Dust in your Lungs

I blow on the dust in your lungs,
send careless seeds floating in your skin
to find your languid arms off to a sacred orgy —
bone-dry for belonging

A cart of women, axes and dreams,
creaks down your cobblestone spine
I hold onto them as if stairs to my dune lighthouse

Your smile, when you wash your face,
comes off in your hand

Your watchful laughter, a stray cat,
unsettles the sloth of alleys reeking of murder

Your chin, the wrong end of a tail,
clenches onto your wrinkles like bulbous roots

Your eyes, the shape of water,
pull onto your rowing lashes to wear their shore slippers

Maybe if I get home early one day,
I can catch you abandon the city lights at the harbour
when the night, in a rush, leaves her clothes on the horizon

You are the arm of an army deployed
to make better trades with the dead of the sea
Like a river jumping at every stone in its way
You learnt that ships shouldn’t make oceans their enemies

I leave the weather outside our door
And go silent at the convergence of my legs
like death when men quietly smoke in a corner
or like rain eating away at joy,
and try to read your manual on life that is in
easy handwriting but difficult jargon

I know you have to travel and speak to suns
conserving Juliet waters for bushfires
that invite themselves over when you’re gone too long

I think to myself, what will I do with all this youth
silting out of my pores

I, too, will learn to hold myself
just like you held everything but yourself

Acknowledgements


Image credits: Isabel Emrich.

Emrich’s psychedelic waterscapes of submerged women felt like a perfect accompaniment for Amna’s poems with their fluid metaphors. Specifically, it was this line “Living in my grandfather’s fishy tank,” that led us to make the connection.

Contributor

Amna Naeem

Located in Lahore, Pakistan, Amna Naeem alternates between working as a full-time O Level English teacher and a part-time content writer. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in English Literature from Government College University and held the office of Vice President at the Safdar Mir English Literary Circle. Two of her poems titled “Urdu” were published in The Brown Anthology under 1010 Press in 2020, while she won numerous accolades at slam poetry contests and other literary events. She holds two Roll of Honor Awards for her co-curricular participation (in debates and literature) at GCU and was also featured in an poetry anthology by King Edward Medical University. She takes immense inspiration from the works and philosophy of Rilke and aims at writing more realistically and truthfully, to understand the modern, conflicted – and rather dystopic – world through words and feelings. Her undergraduate thesis was also based on the status of Gen Z poetry and how it accommodates the themes of “self-discovery” and “solitude” in the current cellular, fast-paced world. Other than Rilke, she admires Wordsworth, Whitman, Neruda, Gluck, O’Hara, and Atwood for their beautiful imagery and meaningful escapism from the mundanity of life.  She sings, plays the uke, befriends cats, complains about her indecision, obsesses over skincare, loves everything desi, and constantly wonders about the purpose of life. She simplifies her life by asking herself this question when conflicted: Does my hate, anger, anxiety, trouble, and grudge really matter in the bigger scheme of things. 

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