Three Times I Have Been Muslim
First day of Kindergarten, my father makes sure
I double-knot my shoelaces,
walks me to my class, gives me two pieces
of advice: Do what your teacher tells you
and Say you can't eat pork for religious reasons.
He didn't tell me what religion,
so all year my classmates thought
the Chinese girl was Jewish
and I wasn't sure myself.
My mother had been watching the news:
hate crimes against Arab Americans rising,
university students protesting the Gulf War.
She called me at my dorm:
I can't stop you from protesting, but
don't tell anyone you're Muslim.
The Chinese Koran in my parents' house
is tucked behind potboilers on the shelf,
a tapestry of an unnamed city with a black box
hangs in the study.
My mother's aunts still cover their hair in China,
she colors hers black, defiant in her beauty,
until she remembers that she is hiding something too.
I, who have only occasionally been Muslim,
do not know grafitti on my place of worship,
have never driven a cab to a hostile street corner,
have never feared to buy groceries
because of the cloth I wear on my head.
Mosques in America are burning.
The Chinese Koran sits on its shelf in a language
I cannot read.
Today, I saw a picture in a book,
and it was of the Kabbah, Sacred Mosque of Mecca
and I realized that the city and the black box both have names,
but it is too late the tapestry is unravelling,
bright colors melting as if on fire.
Will the resting place of my mother and father
burn? Their warnings are urgent
the only doctrine I know.