Birds of Paradise
Her smile seemed smaller that day.
Her mother scolded her as she slumped in
Shimbir, sababta aan aad xirashada hijad?
Why aren’t you wearing your hijab?
It was balled up in her backpack
like a tear-soaked tissue, used then hidden.
Today at school, Shimbir said sheepishly,
they pulled it off my head,
they laughed and called me terrorist.
She didn’t want to wear her hijab
didn’t want to hide the beads that
bounced on the end of each braid
or to be seen as any more different than
the smell of sambuusa already signaled.
Today, two years later,
she came bobbing in
Her eyes bright as the clean red hijab on her head
her oval glasses perched on the end of her little nose
like a bird just before flight.
She says her favorite bird is a parrot,
one she could teach to speak like her
so they could talk, and it would understand her.
In return, it might teach her to fly.
Then she could be always perched, ready for flight
to her safe place where she doesn’t have to fear
her culture stripped from her head
her identity constantly in question
herself always hidden, never understood.