ON CATHOLIC SCHOOL

The first time I saw Jesus he was suspended

from wires I didn’t trust to hold him.
I spent all of Friday Mass trying to catch the light
at its own game, prove there was a space between
each uncurling palm and the tiled ceiling
that needed no support to ease a suspended struggle.

The body hung off the bones like the body hung
off the wires, the skin frozen in ripple over ribs
the way a snowdrift, or anything pure, can pour
over itself, become layers of something better.

I’m nineteen—a man outside my door asks me
if I’ve found Jesus—I touch my newly-scarved
head, knowing that the excuse of January cold
will pass and my hair will remain fully covered
and he will not be the first to fuel the struggle.

In Theology, I learned Jesus called his father Abba,
and passed because it’s the name I call my own—
who feared that I would leave Friday Mass half-faithful,
forgetful of the place where I learned how to be hated.

My father believed I could forget that after
first grade it was the mothers who treated me
differently, their sons’ best friends who pretended
to be terrorists, and I, in my best approximation
of a classmate, could only pretend that it was funny

when they asked my father’s name to help their game.
This my only victory: that Abba could be Arabic
and holy— yet the way they laughed a reminder
that every American part of me was unwelcome.

Ayesha is a Muslim-American poet based in the DMV by way of Long Island. She majored in writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University and received her MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland. Her work has won the 2018 Academy of American Poets University Prize and appears or is forthcoming in the Iron Horse Literary Review, the minnesota review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and the Birmingham Poetry Review.