Why Poetry?

Poetry has always given me voice. It allows me to write down emotions and ideas in a structured format that expresses my identity at that moment. I loved reading poetry as a student—from Spanish poets to Urdu poets to women poets. I worked on a college poetry journal at Northwestern University. But I did not get into writing poetry until recently. Poetry is not like prose in the sense that I cannot make myself sit down and write poems as a daily exercise. Rather, the emotions and ideas come to me and then I sit down to write—sometimes I can write 2-3 poems a day and then have a dry spell for months. You never know when a poem gets embodied.

I use a narrative writing style in poetry; my poems have a definitive structure to them. But my voice is in them and you can hear my voice throughout them.

In 2017, my first book of poems was published through Red Mountain Press . It is titled “Muslim Melancholia.”

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Here is the list of poems that I have published and their links:

This Mortal Coil in riksha magazine

Aap or Tuum in K’in

Habibi in Bending Genres

The Girl with the Pearl Jhumka at the Clockhouse.

A Ghazal for Hadiya at The Tribe

Sarah and Hagar at riksha magazine

My Brother Deep in Tin House.

White Washed Blue at Souvenir

Theories of HER, “Purdah” and “My Parabolic Self”

Third Wednesday, “Jovan Musk Oil”

Penn Review, “April Snow” and “A Stone’s Throw Away”

Main Street Rag, “Language Broker and Mother Stroker”

Papercuts, “Golconda Fort”

These Fragile Lilacs, “A Bed is a Bed”

Mosaic, “The Thing Inside of Me”

The Waggle, “Willy Lomanistan”

Soul Lit, “The Valley of Peace”

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, “Restless Leg Syndrome” and “Google Me”

East Lit Journal, “Mongolian Marks”


Recently my poems were selected to be performed on stage as a part of the Kundiman Foundation and Emotive Fruition event focusing on Asian American poetry in New York City.

Here is a link to the performance.

poemsPoems written by the poets of Kundiman: Janine Joseph, Sahar Muradi, Chialun Chang, Sokunthary Svay, Vikas Menton, Julia Munslow, Hieu Huynh, Rachel Ansong, Samina Hadi-Tabassum, Ansley Moon, and Marina Blitshteyn. Performed by a cast of actors from film, television and Broadway.

I was also a recent finalist for the 2018 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award sponsored by the Guild Complex in Chicago, broadcasted on CAN TV. Watch my performance here along with 19 other talented poets on stage at The Promontory in Hyde Park.


Here is a sample poem from my book Muslim Melancholia (2017):

The Registry

It is not that kind of registry, I tell my son

The one we used for Uncle Faisal’s wedding

When we bought him a brand new toaster

From the online catalog that Aunt Veena likes

Nor is it the one for Baby Emily, I say to him

The one with crotchet blankets and terry cloth bibs

Cotton candy colors finding their way into everything

And wild animals grazing bedspreads and bumpers

It is not the one where grandpop searches for a kidney

It is not the one that draws your maternal bloodlines

Nor can it help you buy a gift for someone’s birthday

This registry is the one used to kill

Aunt Judy’s parents during World War II

The one that made sure

my friend Aoki and her mother stayed in Utah

It was used thousands of years ago to bludgeon

every first-born male in Egypt

The kind that forever separated

in Mexico mestizo from mulatto

My son,

For this registry,

We will live with our fear.

We will ride into town on a high horse.

Donning bright yellow stars on our chest.

Expecting all our friends and family to do the same.

Shaking everyone’s hand before they come for us


My second short story titled  LATEEF was published in Another Chicago Magazine in November 2020.

Here is the first paragraph:


I did not get my driver’s license right away like all the other kids in high school. I failed the test two times: once in our Driver’s Ed class while Mr. Johnson kept yelling at me from the passenger seat, and the second time at the DMV with a middle-aged man in a baseball cap who did not even look up once from his clipboard. Both times I failed for the same reason: I could not parallel park without driving the car onto the curb. We did not need to know how to parallel park in the Section 8 public housing projects where we lived. There were yellow lines painted for each parking space with a number on it that matched the number of your townhouse. I watched my middle-aged Indian mother for years slowly edge her way into the spot painted 31 with our small red Toyota full of weekend groceries, while I cowered in the backseat. When pulling out of the parking space, she pulled out slowly, honking every five seconds, since all the neighborhood kids played soccer in the parking lot during the summer and football in the winter. The potholes were bottomless pits in the middle of the concrete lot and teemed with garbage—turning into small lagoons on rainy days, which my mother painstakingly avoided as she strained her tiny neck and kept her kohl-lined eyes on the rearview mirror, all the while sitting on her blue foam pillow that matched her work smock.

Lateef 2

My first short story titled  MAQBOOL was published in the New Orleans Review in June 2018.

Here is the first paragraph:


The calls always came just around midnight. We were all asleep so the story was told only from my parents’ memory. A man in a deep, husky voice called several times throughout the night and my father had to get up and answer it each time, since the ringing from the old rotary phone was maddening. The man on the telephone started to first just scare them and told them about how dark men were going to come into their apartment and rob them at any time of the night and that this was not a safe neighborhood to live in for good Muslims like them. That they should move out of the apartment immediately. Then the man on the telephone said that these dark men were going to break through the doors and set their apartment on fire. “Who is this!” my father yelled through the phone, hair disheveled, half awake in his white cotton undershirt, ready to pull the phone out of the wall.