The first summer of Ma’s cancer by Shafina Ahmed


A native New Yorker, & former social worker, Shafina Ahmed is a Muslim-Bengali American writer/poet. She has performed in several poetry stage & TV productions with the Full Circle Ensemble; Astoria Stand Up – Harmony & Dissonance Sessions; & “Around the Fire” QPTV with Frank Robinson. She has featured at various poetry venues in NYC such as Nuyorican Café, Union Square Slam, Great Weather Media, Wordat4F. She currently co-curates Poets Settlement monthly Reading/Poetry Series in Brooklyn, and the storytelling series How To Build A Fire. In 2014 she was published in Full Circle Anthology and in 2018 'Miscellany' by RunAmok Books and is currently working on a chapbook of poetry and prose.

We learned to dance with each other for the first time

among red pepper plants, purple-white budding string beans, yellow 

squash blossoms swaying in the warm honeyed winds

plump sun spilling lush green leaves

over the yard gate onto your idea of blue yarn and wire hangers

hung on chain link fence as makeshift perches

pathways for winding vines, veins of your garden, Ma

we built from dirt, seeds, water, tears, prayers and so much hope

whispered into cheap plastic pots we bought at the 99 cents store 

before the word “cancer” lay in your left breast

sickening my motherland 

neither of us good dance partners for each other because

we both want to lead

and we never knew how to speak


And now all we want is song 

All we want is our voice dance! our soul salt! till the soil!

And song the earth in our feet, in our mouths 

in our tongues We dance to its winds 

Carry us, Hold us 

Me daughter of Ma, Ma mother of temples 

We orbit each other make new gravity, rhythm,

god particles into lullaby “La illah ha illal la illal lal la , joll le shan nu who 

Allah who Allah who Allah” - There is one god and that is god 

An ancient chant boned into us, Ganga Ma the River Mother

our language, our blood lotus flower reminding When I breathe Ma 



We will not become stone here Ma 

We will give each other so much after we’ve given each other so much 

Sunrise the sky into a blue sari on clotheslines catching the light and song

rushing from us, singing us from our village, our tribe, 

our ancestors sang! when the farms fields of rice were dry with drought and death 

brown thin arms stretched to the heavens

praying  “Allah megh deh pani deh saiya de re tu ! Allah megh deh! God 

give us rain give us water give us your sheltering shade!”


We will do the same Ma

We will love here Ma 

We will home here Ma 

Ma will Ma here Ma 

Everything here is born alive Ma

This is our new summer, New sun, New sky 

The new shine of stars Painting us alive

into ancestral rain songs and birdcalls 

living in the flowers of a Brooklyn garden.

The Acentos Review 2019