April 5–11, 2021
Samira Sadeque is a Ridgewood-based Bangladeshi poet and journalist. She covers immigrant communities, hate speech and gender violence in both her journalism and poetry. Her work appears in Button Poetry, Black Horse Review and No, Dear, as well as in the In Full Color anthology and elsewhere. She is a Best of the Net nominee and an alum of Winter Tangerine and Cave Canem. She currently works as a teaching artist with City Lore, teaching global traditions of poetry to middle-schoolers in an NYC public school. This past fall, Sadeque was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Jay Deshpande’s workshop The Poem’s Ending.
Author photo by Sariya Sadeque
The Men We Love Break Glass
On a sunless balcony, I
kneel on her prayermat, mother
wishes for him to come home. I ask which Him, god
or son? She says both. I ask both as in:
you want them both to come home? Or,
they’re both the same?
She doesn’t nod, but I know her answer.
In a balconyless cafe, I
lose so many words. On the world map here, my city
is not even a dot. The man next to me has a ring on his left hand,
he wears it like hope, like the men hanging out of bus windows,
so sure how to love. In this way the world has become
so many years.
In the nighttime, the man kneads a map of the world onto my back,
an entire country dissolving under his palms into my skin, like acid
melting all his anger within me. Mother says:
Let a man be angry before he loves you.
That is how they love.
In the nighttime, when he comes home, the man
is god—in his hands so many shards
of a broken world.
They are cutting through his palms, the blood is seeping
through his shirt. I will have to wash it separately
The men we love come home, bring dust, wrap themselves
into wedding rings around our necks,
the men we love break glass, their violence
in shards on the floor, spell love & nice
See? I told you. Mother
does not understand they are cutting through
Let a man be angry before he loves you.
That is the only way they love.
I want to say no, that is how they learn to break glass.
Instead, I pick up the glass shards, clean the blood,
put a band-aid on the man.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this at a time when I was personally impacted by the violence of men in my life. It made me reflect on how violence is not an outsider, it’s often those who hurt us while in our home, who are at our dinner table, men we love.
An important character in the poem is the “mother,” which was important for me to include. In many of our cultures, the idea of “boys will be boys” and “let a man be angry” are narratives shaped by mothers, who coddle violence, allow it to permeate through the doors of safety. It’s also important to note, most of them are victims of abuse themselves; and hence it is second nature for them to continue supporting, and sometimes protecting, men who are violent: men in their homes, men at their dinner tables, men they love.
I wrote this within weeks of two particular incidents in different situations where I saw this violence play out. What I will always remember about this poem, however, is how I wrote it. I was headed to a Billy Joel concert with a friend, but had some time to kill. I found a café to wait in, which is when I had the urge to write this poem. I didn’t have a notebook or notepad on me, so I asked the barista if she could give me a sheet of paper, but she didn’t have one either. So she tore up a part of their receipt sheet. I now have the first draft of the poem in a scroll, which is pinned behind my desk. To me, it’s a reminder of the barista’s kindness, and also something I didn’t imagine I could do in an age of Google Docs—have a poem in a scroll.
What are you working on right now?
I am mostly taking a break from writing for the time being, and working on reading. I started a poetry reading club where a group of us get together twice a month to read and dissect poems—some that are our favorites, some that are confusing or at times intimidating.
While I am taking a break, I am gathering material for a poetry project I have been thinking about for some time.
Often, I find myself misreading a word and finding poetry in it. I’ve seen this in my personal experience and aim to translate that into a larger work of a version of erasure poetry. For this activity, I am using sentences from everyday life to intentionally “misspell” a word, to change its meaning.
Example: “There were no hopes in the stars that night.”
Mistaken: “There were no homes in the stars that night.”
Just one letter can completely change the way this sentence is viewed. Though I’m not sure where I’ll take this project, I am excited about gathering material for this.
What’s a good day for you?
Very controversially, most Mondays. I love Monday mornings: perhaps because I’m a freelancer, it means a new day to send out pitches, send out applications for gigs, anything for a new beginning. I even buy flowers on Sunday evenings to start off the week. Unless my coffee is bad. Then, no day is good.
What brought you to New York?
Journalism school, but what made me stay is how it pulled me out of my comfort zone and made me realize how much I could grow here.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
So many places, but I suppose Dhaka, my hometown, is where I’ve lived the longest. I wasn’t attached to it when I left for boarding school at sixteen. But when I moved back after college, I relearned the city, and viewing it as an adult entirely changed my view.
It’s chaotic, the traffic is terrible and pollution is pretty bad. But the familiarity of home makes up for it. It’s different from my street in Ridgewood, which is otherwise very quiet, and sometimes I miss that chaos.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
My life in the Ridgewood area, as a post-grad and a freelancer, began at IC Brooklyn Café in Bushwick. This is when I was living on an extremely tight budget in a room the size of a shoebox. There was no natural light and it was difficult to write there. So I picked up extra shifts at work and would use any extra savings, which was about $10–$14 per week, to buy coffee and work at this café. The barista there was one of the kindest men I know; he would always greet us with the same enthusiasm as you’d expect from a friend. It helped me feel at home.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
It means people who are willing to learn, and willing to accept there is always going to be a new way to write, there is always going to be poetry we won’t understand, and finding beauty in that.
I am lucky to have found many poetry spaces in New York and Washington, DC, where I’ve spent a few months at different times for work. In addition to my Brooklyn Poets fellowship, I am also a Winter Tangerine alum, a Cave Canem alum and part of the NYFA Immigrant Artist mentorship cohort from 2018. All of these communities focus particularly on poets of color and/or immigrant poets. For me, this has created a safe space to be able to explore both my poetry as well as my limitations.
The poetry reading club I recently started is also part of my community. We get together every two weeks to read and discuss poems of our choice. It’s made up of members who don’t have any academic training in poetry, so we’re all coming from the same place, which is wonderful.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I’m afraid I’m not sure which poets live in Brooklyn. Of my contemporaries, however, I really enjoy the work of Bernard Ferguson and my friend Joel Francois. Bernard’s essay in the New Yorker about Hurricane Dorian shook me in ways no other essays have. Joel’s spoken word poetry, in its most brutal and honest forms, has taught me the power of constantly interrogating my work, my intention, where my poem is from and where I intend for it to land.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I am a teaching artist with City Lore, and my supervisor Sahar Muradi, an Afghan American poet, has been an inspiration for me. She teaches me not only how to be a poet, but also how to be a kind teacher and supervisor.
My other mentors are two poetry fellows I met at a retreat and who became my friends: Joel Francois and Amira El-Behiri. We not only have a friendship, but also a mini-community where we share our very rough drafts with each other for feedback. They get to see my poetry in its most bare form. We spent one July 4th at the Coney Island beach writing poetry—one of my favorite writing memories.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
“Prologue to a Womanhood” by Hera Naguib: I recently read this in our poetry reading club, and I couldn’t get enough of it. We all had different interpretations of the entire premise of the poem, which doesn’t happen often. We had totally opposite readings: a few thought it was about young romantic love, whereas some others considered childhood sexual violence. Every line brought in a new question, a new reading of the poem, and I love that the poem is still lingering with me. I feel like I’m not done with it, and won’t be for a while.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: this is essentially a long poem the size of a novel, which we should’ve expected from a poet. Vuong’s simplicity of words to show the most intricate details and brutal honesty about growing up as an immigrant, being a bridge between his mother and America, and all the pride and frustrations that came with it were as starkly presented as I’ve ever seen in any commentary on immigrant communities.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Jericho Brown’s The Tradition
Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Fortune for Your Disaster
Phil Kaye’s Date & Time
Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic
Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I dip in and out of multiple books, unless I’m very engrossed in one. I can only do digital texts for longform articles; I’ve tried reading fiction and poetry on Kindle and iPhone, but it’s not the same without the scent of an old book. I also prefer to buy old books instead of new ones—they always carry a story of the person who had it before me.
I am not a note-taker, but I do have a notebook where I write down my favorite quotes from a book as I go. If I am not able to write them right away, I fold the pages—up to the line of the quote—so I know where to come back to.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
My poems are all freestyle and I really want to focus on learning different forms of poetry that have a specific style. Having written freestyle for so long, I almost crave structure, a rigid box I’d have to fit my poem in, rules I have to follow. I did some of it in Omotara James’s Cave Canem workshop, and I hope to do more of it. That’s a big reason why I started the poetry reading club—it’s our way of teaching ourselves how to read poetry, identify forms and learn from them. And that’s what I hope to do going forward.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I enjoy reading and writing in the park, and I really enjoyed my time writing at Coney Island once and hope to be able to do it again.
I also write a lot when I’m traveling. Not travelogues, but poems and stories. Once, on a bus from New York to Washington, DC, I wrote 4,400 words of a novel I’m working on. I’d been thinking of writing this story, and something about being on the road prompted me finally to start.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
When I first moved to the area, I lived very close to the Myrtle–Wyckoff station, and there is a courtyard right outside. On any given day, even in the winter, groups of men—uncles, friends—gather here to catch up and hang out. This reminds me of my life in Dhaka, where it’s a part of our culture for men to gather around after work and sit for adda—a hangout session. It’s odd to think that a cultural practice reserved for men would make me nostalgic, but I believe that’s what nostalgia is. It has such a strange way of making you love something you once detested or criticized—just so that you could get close to the feelings associated with that memory. And I miss that about home, so witnessing that in Brooklyn always made me feel at home.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the kaleidoscope of my dreams,
And what I conjure up in smoke you call madness,
For every fire that births me as good also gives life to you.