Shameful Waters, a Poem by Humirah Sultani

when you don’t know how to swim
and that someone comes to save you —
it is surprising how the fear of drowning and
the sheer terror at the thought of suffocating
overrides your conscious being
as you desperately struggle to save yourself,
apparently, even at the cost of someone else’s life.

survivor’s relief was the last poison,
ending with the sleepy drops of haram (1) elixirs and
smoky clouds of scorched leaves that ebb about you —
the sweetest flavours of nostalgia never to be tasted again.
your likeness hovers above you, defeated
forever staring back
and down into the sun-starved abyss
that anchors the mirror lakes
of your guilty, welling eyes.

these are the same immobilizing,
frenzied waves that drown your being,
overwhelming you under oceans of tiny briny droplets
of frustration and melancholy and apathy.
forever appalled by how one person treats another
with such injustice and hatred and malice,
the abuser was once the abused —
the flooded seek to surface,
the doomed dying to breathe once more.

tidal wave after traumatizing wave,
you welcome it like a weighted afghan (2)
bathing you in condescending tides.
it starts with a corroding embrace that pushes you,
cascading overhead and crushing you,
knocking you down,
smashing you, eyes-first into the blunt pebbles and sharp reef.
the surf’s momentum is not your shirin dost (3) and
your pool of refuge is nowhere to be found —
only the desiccated crater of a shallow puddle remains.

you were born at an interface
between behesht (4) and these shameful waters,
severely polluted by the dark wine
of your martyred kin spilling over from a common vein
split through by the knife of unlovers and evil jinni (5) alike —
forever haunting and possessing and draining you,
those ghosts cloaked in the form of a beloved.

thank her creative highness Nature,
the very first mother to nurse downed birds,
for spinning all the threads of joy in life and
weaving them into the soft folds of warm lips —
a lover’s kiss.

whose tongue
speaks a language
that only the two of you could ever share
and strokes your soul to free you
from the swirling maelstroms of jahanam (6)

rinse off your galvanizing paralysis,
your heart and mind are still at last.
finally, you may submit yourself, peacefully
while floating with your senses deprived.
enjoy the serene, calm wave
that washes over you
and steeps your sunken heart,
like tea leaves in a glass of sheer chai. (7)

we are home
among the coral petals
of our secret tulip garden
whose stems sip away at the tears
springing from those very same waters

(1) forbidden

(2) knitted or crocheted wool blanket

(3) sweet friend, lover

(4) heaven

(5) intelligent spirits with rank inferior to an angel

(6) hell

(7) sweet milk tea

Poem Description 

Shameful Waters is a poem about the overwhelming nature of intergenerational trauma, particularly from the perspective of Hazara people scattered across the world. Over hundreds of years, we have been uprooted, forcibly evicted and persecuted. Efforts to erase our culture and dilute our blood lines are only a few examples of our shared trauma.

Through creativity and storytelling, we can cultivate inner peace, acceptance and love as we seemingly float through the diaspora, overcoming trauma without forgetting injustices and preventing residual harm to our loved ones. We must be involved in creating the world that we wish to both live in and share, especially as it will not be created for us as history has already revealed.

About Humirah Sultani

Humirah Sultani is a self-taught Hazara-Canadian creative based out of Calgary, Alberta. Her storytelling tools include traditional & digital illustration, photography and creative writing to share the complex, uplifting and often heartbreaking stories of her generation. 

As a career hospital pharmacist in pediatric oncology, she works closely with children and families who have inspired a deep sense of joy and hope that has been imbued into her work. 

Supported by AYEDI & #RisingYouth, her first project as part of the Afghan Community Impact Incubator is The Azra Studio – a grassroots initiative to bring together the Hazara creative community from within the Afghan diaspora. The inaugural theme of identity & perspective creates a universal connection between each artist in an effort to amplify & showcase their craft.

Attend The Azra Studio’s Virtual Gallery Opening on Saturday, January 22, 2022 at 2:00 PM MST to hear more about this initiative and their first collaborative project – Through ĀZRA Lenses – a visual ethnography to celebrate Hazara visual identity through the use of photography & storytelling. This project will focus on reclaiming the same facial and physical features that have been misused for centuries to persecute Hazara people in Afghanistan.

Follow @theazrastudio on Instagram on their journey to celebrate the creativity, diversity & spirit of the Hazara community.