Feb 28th: Good job!
In peace, an old woman whispers sweet nothings to help a flower bloom: yes my love, grow, grow, grow, slow and steady, you’re doing such a good job, I love—the train halts to a stop. We step out into dim, streetlamp sun.
Mar 3rd: Good job!
In peace, I see a dream where father gathers my siblings and I in the prayer room that also serves as a guest room in our house, giving way to my brother’s joke: God is a guest in this house! He’s trying to save us from something but we don’t know what. He’s telling us to wait, wait, wait. My brother starts to crack his knuckles, wait; my older sister stands in front of the full-length mirror admiring her skirt, amber striations dancing back from the glass, and slowly starts to recite the prayer for when one looks at themself in the mirror: “Oh Allah, just as You have favored me with external beauty, favor me with good morals and manners too,” wait; my younger sister keeps pulling on his shirt, wait. He is convinced if we just wait, we can get to a safe place but we just keep waiting and waiting, until finally, my patience breathes its last, and I stand up, switch off the air-conditioner, and call out, everyone get up, we’re leaving!
I keep wondering days after the dream why I had to turn the air-conditioner off before leaving.
Mar 7th: Good job!
In peace, after pushing my data management skills to a speed-run, I send father a fresh-out-of-the-oven debt tracker spreadsheet. Here, I hope you like it! I type out under the link. The absurdity of my words hits me after reading a full twenty-five pages of poems about god and guests and ghosts and prayer, each with all the right notes, beautiful, like the red on a child’s first apple drawing. Expressing my gratitude to the god, the guest, the ghost, and the prayer that is time difference, I delete the message, and try again: Here, I hope it’s helpful! And then realize again why seeing little debt zeros in a pastel color-coded spreadsheet might not be remotely helpful to a father who years ago invented a nursery rhyme to remember the money he owes.
Mar 12th: Good job!
In peace, I write about god and guests and ghosts and prayer and parents and praise. The girl beside me writes about absent parents and absent summer vacations and absent—what’s more valuable in a workshop, praise or criticism? Most of us stop writing, except the ones who are in a race against time to finish that last thought. They need each other. I think about pairs of things I need. Praise. I think about all the praise I needed as a child to stop crying. Of course, criticism, how else will you grow? I think about father sitting across an ocean, almost whispering, how there is no one to say good job to him.
Mar 18th: Good job!
In peace, I send daily good jobs to father. My older sister laugh-texts, How’s the praise exercise going? The praise is exercising hard, I write and erase, and write back, I’m not stingy with my good jobs like father. Because what is god without praise, what is guest without praise, what is ghost without praise, what is prayer without praise, what is parent without praise. What is a child without praise.
Hafsa Zulfiqar hails from Pakistan and graduated from Bennington College where she studied literature and psychology. Her work which has received the WNDB Walter Grant, two Best of the Net, and a Pushcart nomination explores brown identity, dreams, language, liminality, and above all the notion of home; it can be found or is forthcoming in AAWW: The Margins, Pleiades, The Offing, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Fractured Literary, Figure 1, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, South Dakota Review, & elsewhere. She serves on the staff of Brooklyn Poets, Muzzle Magazine, & Pollux Journal.