Cottonwood Seeds en Route: III. Suri Dihan

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from March, 2020.

This is the third entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route. It is a continuation of Part II: Crystal Coleus.

I. Amour Fou, n.

“Morning, Suri!”

I finish the outline of
the swoop of the prince’s hair
(the kingdom’s kinda stuck in their 2000s-emo phase)
before looking up.

When I do,
Crys and Violet
are standing across the table,
holding hands.

“We have something we want to tell you,”
Crys says, blushing.
Violet is smiling
more than I’ve ever seen.

“Alright,” I say,
placing my pencil
in the crease of my sketchbook.

Crys stutters.
“Well, umm,”
she looks at Violet, who nods.
“We’re dating.”

“Oh my god, you guys!
That’s awesome!
I’m so happy for the both of you!”
I get out of my seat and hug them both.

I act surprised, but it’s obvious—
she watched The Good Place
within a week of Violet telling her about it.
I’ve bugged her about She-Ra forever.

II. Plutography, n.

Obsidian and ruby—
Carefully I draw in the shine on the prince’s necklace.
His silk robes, black as night,
wave in his castle’s courtyard’s breeze.

Is eyeliner too much?
Nah. He’s totally in his feelings.

He holds a goblet in his left hand
as a servant nervously pours wine in it.
A small band of lyre players perform
by a line of pink tulips in the background.

Kordra kneels in front of him, 
blushing, accepting their quest.

III. Informator Choristarum, n.

When I was in 7th grade, I was so excited
to join the choir.
My family sang all the time—
I always stole the solo or lead.

But there was a huge difference between
the music the director chose and
the Irani songs my family sang.

It didn’t feel like I fit there;
I was otherworldly.

IV. Astroparticle, n. (and adj.)

I don’t remember
if I’ve seen a student who looks like me
in Puyallup.
We have to drive to Tacoma for the nearest mosque.

It was hard for my parents,
when they moved here, being othered
everywhere they went, especially
after 9/11,
through 2003, when I was born.

V. Booky, adj.

Wednesday night,
I drive to Target,
clock in, walk to the break room,
put my purse in my locker.

“Hey Suri.”
Nadine sits at one of the tables,
doesn’t seem to look up from
The Things They Carried.

“Hey. Break or waiting for your shift?”
Nadine has a habit
of going straight to work after school
to read uninterrupted until her shift started.

She picks up an old notecard,
one of its edges curled and brown from age
(and probably spilt coffee).
Tim O’Brien demands attention.”

“Because… of how they carry things?”

“Oof. Stop,”
she laughs,
gets up, puts the book in her locker.

VI. Geodynamo, n.

My parents
have always pushed me to do my best.
Their jobs are similar to mine,
which is why
I had to start working when I turned 16
to help support our family.

My parents
always talk about me becoming a doctor
or an engineer for Microsoft, but
I just want to draw.

My parents
talk about UW as much as Crys
(somehow possible), but
I keep looking at
student work on Cornish’s website,
Art Assignment videos on YouTube,
Muslim comics on Instagram.

VII. Historicist, n. and adj.

It feels necessary
to look into the past,
bring it with you,
showcase it somehow.
The past made what you are, you know?

That’s what occupies me
as I set up the endcap for
Hearth & Hand.

VIII. Metamathematics, n.

COVID-19 spreading
into Washington 
what I thought was dying.
Brown skin
seems to be enough to
label as infected,
warrant wide berths in the hallway.

it’s an occasional “joke,”
like some white boy in a COD shirt says
”Allahu Akbar”
before simulating an explosion
when I enter a classroom.

there’s a hesitance
when an adult tries to explain
something President Trump said.
It doesn’t really matter what—
they take long pauses, staring at me
while they talk.

My mom
lectures me about not wearing a hijab,
while Crys
lectures me about how they’re oppressive.

As if
is that clear-cut.

XI. Trainspotting, n.

Everyone else
walks around
like they belong,
like they have a role to play,
like they are pieces of the same puzzle.

feel like I’m
sitting on a bench,
watching each one pass by,
losing count.

X. Geometric Progression, n.

Like background noise.
Made worse
seeing people fit into boxes
with ease.
Like they come with instruction manuals.

I feel like
I can never find my box.
Maybe that’s why
my hijab never felt right.

XI. German Tinder, n.

When Crys asked me
why I never wear a hijab,
I told her it’s because
I wanted to be liberated.

When my mom asked me
why I never wear a hijab,
I told her it’s because
of racism at school.

Last year, one night
when my parents were getting groceries,
I put my dad’s taqiyah on my head
to see what it felt like.

It felt
the same way
my hijab felt—
not right.

XII. Timelily, adv.

It was during lunch this morning,
at the end of a half-day for conferences
that were canceled due to COVID-19,
when Isabella looked up
from her magnetism notes
to say to Nadine,

“Did Suri show you
drawing Kordra slicing off an ettin’s heads?”

It chafed.
It felt wrong.
I wanted to say something, but
I didn’t know how.

After I got home,
I got an email saying
is the last school day for at least six weeks.

It feels like something I should tell them in person,
the way Crys and Violet did.
Nadine and Isabella supported them—
Violet used Kordra’s pronouns right after I told her.

Tomorrow has to be the day.

XIII. Train-Scent, n.

Friday morning, snow
falls on the bus window,
blankets the grass and tree branches.
Static from the tires turns into
static from confused teachers turns into
static from the lunchroom.

Nadine is the last one to our table,
placing The Handmaid’s Tale next to her sandwich.
They’re all here.
I wait for a lull.

“Hey, uh.
There’s something I wanna tell you guys.”
They all turn to me; my throat is dry.
“Um, I’ve been feeling, uh, off lately,
like something isn’t fitting, and
I think that thing might be me.

“I mean— this is hard.
You know how Kordra is non-binary?
I think I might be too.”

There’s a silence. I can’t tell how long.

“So,” Isabella starts,
“do you want us to start
using they/them pronouns for you?”

“Um. Yeah. I think so.”

“No problem,” Crys smiles.
“Thank you for letting us know.
That was a brave thing you did.”
She starts to go for a fist bump, stops,
offers her elbow
for a more-hygienic elbow bump.

XIV. Uranography, n.

The night Kordra returns to the capital
to return the king’s scepter—
which cultists stole
for a ritual to summon a harpy army—
they walk to a hill on the edge of town
that overlooks the city and its harbor.

They lie against a madrone,
start connecting constellations.
Legends still play out
in the blue-black fabric.
Small figures move across a map
dodging dragon wings and poison fog.

XV. Black Friar, n.

“Now, just because schools are canceled doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to continue your studies.”

“I know, mom.”

“You will spend seven hours a day studying. An hour with the Quran, an hour with math, an hour with history, an hour reading. Each of your classes, you will find a way to study. No exceptions.”

“I understand. I will do my best. But, what if my hours at work change due to the closures, though?”

“Your studies come first! You are a student. Your school must be your first priority.”

“Alright. I’ll make it work.”

XVI. House-Lew, n.

the first would-be-school day at home,
I wake up early,
start studying before my parents wake up.

When they do, they prepare quick breakfasts,
head to their jobs,
which, thankfully, haven’t been suspended

After the sun rises,
I prepare
eggs and toast
for my
brother and sister.

After they eat,
I send them to their rooms to read while
I clean the living room—
disinfect, sweep, vacuum—
then sit down to study trig.

XVII. Fleadh Cheoil, n.

Day two.

After lunch,
I clear the living room,
tell Yusef and Amina
to not go back to their rooms.

For about an hour,
I show them dances
our grandmother taught me
when I was their age.
I sing the songs myself.

Yusef giggles
as he trips over his own legs.
Amina murmurs
the lyrics under her breath,
gradually raising her volume.

XVIII. - Securiform, adj.

Day three.

I scoop same blackberry jam
on one of our small, rubber spatulas,
spread it on a slice of wheat bread
for Yusef’s sandwich.

I really liked the dance you showed us yesterday.”

“I’m glad, but
you’re not getting extra jam on your sandwich,”
I say,
pointing the spatula at him accusingly.

“No, no. It was just fun.
I’ve never really danced like that before.”
He looks at the counter,
rubbing his wrist with his other hand.

“I could teach you more today.
The same dance?
A different one?”

“That’s— well, is it normal for boys to dance?”

“Of course, Yusef. Everyone dances.”

“But none of my friends dance.
And you taught us a girl dance.”

“Dances are dances, Yusef.
You can dance whatever dance you want to.”

XIX. Talavera, n.

Day four.

I get the urge
to make something
with my hands.

My sketchbook:
buried in my backpack,
untouched since Friday.

Yesterday, I shelved
these bowls at work that were
an obvious, mass-produced appropriation.

Maybe I can try to draw
in the style like those bowls’s patterns,
fuse their culture to mine.

All art
borrows, blends;
we are all one.

XX. Baselard, n.

When Kordra was young,
they walked everywhere,
a dagger holstered on their hip.

Not welcome
by a family who
praised an unforgiving god,
lamented a blight on their names,
hid their faces in public.

When Kordra left home,
they walked across the kingdom,
a dagger pang in their chest.

Not welcome
by civilians who
glared at their dark skin,
winced at their accent,
scoffed at their pronouns.

XXI. Colour-de-Roy, n. and adj.

The morning sun slips in the throne room
when Kordra returns the king’s scepter.

The king rises out of his seat, walks to them.
His hand appears from under his purple robe,
a victorious eagle embroidered on his chest.

He accepts the scepter in his left hand,
His right on Kordra’s shoulder.
“Thank you, Kordra.
You have done a great service for our kingdom.
I am so sorry for how our order has treated you.
You have brought great honor to yourself and
the Order of the Cottonwood.
Our kingdom owes you dearly.”

Applause echoes off the aged stone walls.
Loud, overwhelming, Kordra starts to tear up.
In the last moment of clarity,
before their vision blurs completely,
they see the prince rise from his throne,
his smirk, his smooth hands clapping.

XXII. - Frammis, n.

“What does that even mean?
I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

It turns out
a pandemic
isn’t the best time
to come out
to your orthodox parents.

“That makes no sense.
There are men and women.
That’s it.
You think you’re a man?”

I don’t feel like a man or a woman.”

You are a woman.
You’ve been a woman your whole life.”

“Sex assigned at birth
has nothing
to do with gender,

“Of course it does!
It always has and always will!”

“It doesn’t have to!”
I pause to breathe,
to flatten the wrinkles in my mind’s bedsheet.
cottonwood trees have either
male or female
reproductive organs—“

“Trees have organs?”

“The seeds, Dad.
That biological fact
doesn’t change how you see or treat
the tree;
you’d still walk up to it,
look at the fractured sky through its branches.
Gender is something people made up—
it has nothing to do with
the body a person lives in.”

XXIII. Bridge Coat, n.

For Kordra,
after the ceremony,
the prince fastens up his coat,
invites them to join him on a walk
with a head nod.

For me,
after I come out to my parents,
my father zips up his jacket,
rubs his eyes with his hands
as he shakes his head,

XXIV. Macaronic, adj. and n.

Not going outside
except for work—
limited for me
by my mother’s request—
has disrupted my laundry cycle.
seems dirty enough
to justify the necessary
water consumption
of the washer.

My clothes piled on my dresser
like a messy beanie.
My hamper
as a classroom.

XXV. Leggiadrous, adj.

day nine, i think.
tuesday, i’m pretty sure.

feels like
i’m watching my family
live out a bad multicam sitcom—
unfunny and boring, an unlikable protagonist,
a formulaic rhythm.

that suri
wakes up, makes breakfast, studies
like everything is fine.
smiles and laughs and plays with her siblings
like it’s a normal day.

how does she do that?
she never misses a beat.
how does she keep up?
i’m exhausted.

XXVI. Proclivity, n.

Today, I take a break from
babysitting and acting like I’m reading
to draw.

I never realized
how normal
being around people all day
is in my life.
The absence is palpable
like a baking aisle without flour.

My hand sketches
outlines of people,
a crowd gathered for a concert, maybe—
shoulder to shoulder.

I miss
Isabella’s facts about Mars,
school-Nadine’s book recommendations,
Cris’s arbitrary soapboxes,
Violet’s questions about everything.

Their faces appear
on the figures in the front row.

XXVII. Wallydraigle, n.

It’s hard.
Feeling any of it.

My laptop has endless
notifications from teachers posting assignments.
The counters have endless
dust from so many meals made each day.

Did I use this glass yesterday?
Did I shower this morning?
What day is it?

XXVIII. Anaerobe, n.

This morning, Isabella Skypes me—
still in the oversized sweater she slept in,
unkempt hair lazily scrunchied,
drinking from her SciShow mug.

Her way of coping with everything
is focusing on data, making charts—
I’ve never seen anyone
tear through a spreadsheet fast as her.

After she shows me some graphs she made
(so proud, that nerd), she asks,
“So, how have you been holding up?”

“Getting by, you know.
I gotta take care of
Amina and Yusef during the day,
but it’s all manageable.”

“That’s good. What about you though?
You been drawing?
Kordra go on any adventures?”

“Here and there, when I can.
It’s hard to find time.”

“I know what you mean—
Alejandro keeps me busy too.”
A Doppler effect of giggles and stomping;
she turns her gaze off frame.
“Can I ask you something about Kordra?”

“Uhh… sure.”

“Could they, like,
travel to another planet and fight aliens?”

A pause.
Laughter explodes from me,
the hardest I’ve laughed in what feels like years.

“What!? I wanted to help you think of adventures!”

“I don’t think space travel works in D&D!
They wouldn’t be able to breathe!”

Dragons and magic are totally logical,
but you draw the line
at the vacuum of space and aliens?
There has to be a spell or something for that!”

“Why is everything always about
with you!?”

“Why is everything about
hunky, non-binary paladins
with you!?”

I laugh so hard, I cry.
We should so this more.

XXIX. Cockshut, n.

From the desk in my bedroom,
I can see the edge of ER’s roof,
which turns goldenrod as the sun sets.
It makes me think about endings.

this closure will end,
my time in school will end,
lives end—
how the day dies in long, drawn-out breaths.

When my grandmother was dying,
she showed me
an old painting by Massoud Arabshahi
she snuck a picture of at a museum back in Iran.
She said it stopped her in her tracks—
the cool colors, warm circles scattered
like a map of watchtowers or
“Allah’s ever-presence” as she put it—
so full of comfort
and anxiety at the same time.

She gave me that picture that day.
I keep it
above my desk,
next to the window where I can see
the sun’s shadow engulf the world. 

XXX. Baby Blues, n.

Can’t stay mad
at my mom
being so overbearing.

The last time
she was this
intense was after
Amina was born.

New checklists everyday,
every moment scheduled—
desperately seeking structure.

If she can
get through all
that, maybe she’ll
see me for
me one day.

XXXI. Sumpitan, n.

And so, Kordra
lays their sword across their palms,
kneels before the prince.

He grazes the blade with his fingertips.
“Are you really done
protecting our kingdom?”

They chuckle, shake their head.
the journey is never over, Your Grace.
It just changes shape.”
They lower the sword onto a cloth—
fine silk, black (duh)—
swaddle it, hand it to the prince.

They rise to their feet,
lift their pack onto their shoulders,
a spear knotted to its side.
They walk away, stop in the threshold.
“When you need me,
you’ll know where to find me,” they say.
They wink at the prince, and leave.

Continued in Part IV: Isabella Dudosa.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s