written and illustrated by Yi Xiaocuo
Fatimah’s mother Roshengul Abdurehim has been disappeared into a detention camp since June 2017, probably because she traveled to Turkey once in 2015. It was not until August 2019 that Fatimah saw a picture of her mother with her brother’s family, but she is not sure still where her mother is and if she is safe and sound. All of her family and extended family members still live in Kashgar, Xinjiang. She hasn’t seen them for three years.
This is a common story for many Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic Muslim peoples living outside of China, anxiously waiting to hear from family, wondering where they could be, whether they are alive or not, angry about why positive changes are not happening or not happening fast enough even though they testify and speak up all the time. Meanwhile, the world debates, assesses, watches, waits, condemns, forgets, turns to other hot issues…
Poetry rolled out in the mother tongue has a magic power. Every time I hear a folk song from my homeland, it soothes my unhealable wound of being an exile in an Anglophone world. The vocabulary and intonation in poetic verses echoes with my native language and brings home closer to my heart. When we cried as children, mothers’ songs would calm us down; when we feasted with our families, songs of festivals surrounded us. Folk songs and poetry extolling mothers are so prevalent in Uyghur and Kazakh cultural worlds and soundscapes that almost everyone knows a line or two of a song for mother, and are ready to join in the chorus at a Olturash (gathering) with family and friends. Who would have fathomed at that time, that within just a few years, family separation would become the unceasing worsening reality or the new norm?
Fatimah has testified for her mother and her people on different platforms many times, but this time she chose to present a poem to the world.
She hopes her mother can hear it too.
by Fatime Seyyah, translated by Erkinjan
you pray for me from afar
as I send night greetings to you
we both look to the moon
and hear the same song
Our eyes grow wet
from the whispering of trees
from flashes of sunlight
from the movement of sands
Our souls tremble
from the Taklimakan’s cold wind
from the birds that flit past
from the car rumbling by
My longing for you is something
no violin could play
no weeping poem could convey
no great actor could portray
no dark night could hide away
no bright sun could hold within the day
You send me love
From your soul’s secret levels
from the slight quivering of your eye
from the silence of your hair
from the depths of darkness
from the muzzles of rifles
from the stares aimed at your back
you send me love
The warplanes flying past
remind you of me
and you send greetings with them to me
You write a letter from your heart, bloodied like a pomegranate
With your hands, forbidden from prayer,
you secretly wipe the tears from my eyes
where are you?
I am sending you greetings
sending you greetings
Shared with the author’s permission (Sep 14, 2019).