“This can’t be me,” Mother says,
leaning forward in a wheelchair,
“Must be some shriveled woman,”

“with parched skin, frayed hair,”
she adds, “Not me. I’m only 30.”
Mother gives me my Smartphone

with which I clicked her photo
during a commercial break,
watching “Kismet,”

Hollywood film
made in 1955
when Mother was in fact 30

with six children in Kashmir.
Her skin then was pure,
hibiscus bloomed in her hair.

Now, in The Bronx
Hebrew Home at Riverdale,
63 years later

in Mother’s sparse room,
a harem girl on TV, decked
in baubles, bangles, & beads,

starts revolving
in the courtyard of a Caliph
in Old Baghdad,

her pantaloons blooming
her turban glittering:
I’m gritting my teeth, glaring

at a fantasy Orient, thinking
of the grim reality today
in Iraq. Mother is transfixed

as the harem girl twirls
to stage front where her
flawless face fills the full screen.

Suddenly, Mother starts to sigh.
“What happened,” I ask gently
massaging her stiff fingers

with Aspercreme. Mother
nods at the TV, whispers,
“I want my skin like hers.”

by Rafiq Kathwari / @brownpundit / rafiqkathwari.com