July 9, 2019
“If I say the word enough I can write myself out of it,” starts “Partition,” a poem by Fatimah Asghar in her debut collection If They Come For Us (2018). Asghar does say the word “partition,” over and over again — seven other poems in the book have the same title. In one poem, a partition is a transformative moment: “you’re kashmiri until they burn your home. take your orchards. stake a different flag. until no one remembers the road that brings you back.” In another, a partition is “a thin blue wall cutting the deserted hall” of orphaned Asghar’s home, meant to divide her from her aunt. Asghar uses the concept of partition to both navigate an event that left India and Pakistan painfully divided in 1947 as well as the barriers in her own life.
Asghar, who is from Boston and attended Brown University for International Relations and Africana Studies, didn’t always know that she would become a published writer. She wasn’t raised by artists. Her parents, who migrated from Kashmir and Pakistan to America, died when Asghar was five. In some accounts, Asghar says she and her sister raised themselves; in other accounts, there is an aunt or uncle present, always hovering, never referred to as a replacement parent.
By high school, as Asghar started to look for ways to cope with the stress that came with being an immigrant orphan in a new country, it became clear that she had to be an artist. It’s not that she wanted to be one, she says. It’s that she had no other option.