Plain China

of women and gods (of learning how to pray)

by Lily Jamaludin · Grinell College
Laughter in the Streets of Istanbul, Anna Blue · Stanford University

I.
The first verse I memorize I repeat over and over in my head for days
My tongue tripping over the letters and sounds until they become mine.
She teaches me new ones—(I’ve forgotten them now)—
tells me stories from memory of the prophets and their wives,
takes me around mosques in the land of smiles.
They ran here because her husband used to beat her and her children.

She smells of talcum powder and motherhood and she holds my hands and
it is the first time I cry for someone else.

 

II.
There is an Indian woman who lives across from our house,
I see her in between the gates: she is wearing a purple shirt,
taking out the trash, her hair up in a bun,
and a red bindi on her forehead. She is
so so big, colossal, I cannot stop looking, I think,
she must be God.
(even after all these years,
I hope she is, still.)

 

III.
Close to midnight, we pray in lines of white,
the moon and my mother to one side, her mother and my sister to the next
murmuring the same words, not just us,

it is as if God is here, our blood, our breath thick with it.

 

A leech sitting on my knee for at least an hour
My grandmother pinches at it with her wrinkled hands
Throws it out the window,

my blood staining our white prayer clothes.

 

IV.
My grandmother (my father’s mother)
tells my sister to take me to the hospital.
I don’t know until I get there, maybe even years after.
(we are never the same afterwards.)

 

V.
My father never forgets a single prayer,
a single day.

About the Author

Lily Jamaludin · Grinell College

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Lily Jamaludin is currently studying political science. Lily has performed spoken word at Busboys and Poets’ legendary stage in D.C., conducted youth poetry workshops with Split This Rock (a national nonprofit organization of poets, artists, and activists), and opened for slam poet Anis Mojgani. She believes in creating social change through the power of the word. Her poem first appeared in The Grinnell Review

About the Artist

Anna Blue · Stanford University

As a student completely addicted to photography, Anna Blue likes to think that she observes the world through a wide-angle lens. On the side, she studies international relations and marine biology, and hopes to spend her days after college capturing her travels around the world through photography. Her work first appeared in Stanford’s journal, Leland Quarterly.