‘build a home out of skin’ by Umniya Najaer

— Nix Thérèse

I’m always drawn to chronicles of migration because there’s no singular way of moving through the world: the moments that crystallize between arrival and departure say as much about us as the goalposts themselves. This becomes starkly evident in ‘build a home out of skin’ where the past and present coalesce to give us a vision of an in-between existence: “one day i am nauseous / with loss // & paint / with a stick of cinnamon / the memory of gone country / into the doors // and mark / with my knuckles / the latitudes of displacement / along the dry wall”. Stomach-sickness typically feels like a void that can’t be comforted or worked around, but here, the loss itself seems to fill up the speaker until they can’t help but be swamped, shifting the loss from an untouchable space to too touchable and creating a fraught intimacy. Even the cinnamon—a usual tool of comfort—channels this deficit. The grounds chart a course until the speaker’s recollection becomes a shade of real again; even the natural oil from their fingers imbues this stagnant space with personal touches and brings out the cinnamon’s aroma. But it’s heartbreaking that the medium mirrors its subject; even as the speaker “paint[s] joy”, the homeland and its stand-in will be physically swept away. “A birthmark / with bloodshot eyes” calls to mind a tired, overworked, and mutable body that will also deteriorate over time, which feels apt to this larger landscape of denial. It felt deeply surprising to see spice as paint: we typically don’t preserve cultural memory using what goes inside our bodies. I recognize now that even though we separate them, the deep link between the two can’t be fully severed; we absorb home just as often as we build it, and remembrance is another form of ingesting.

Poetry Society of America