national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014

of women and gods (of learning how to pray)

Lily Jamaludin  • 
Grinell College

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.


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.)


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.


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.)


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