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spring/summer 2019

self-portrait in the oppressor's vernacular

by Raena Shirali

told pretty for a light-skinned black girl / you are what you eat / told

bitches gotta eat / & the fuck’s an aloo / told 36-24-36 / modest’s

hottest / told not quite a 6-out-of-10 / told rock it braless / told tape those

down / everyone can tell you’re cold / & you dress like a terrorist / told come on

just show us / told avoid eye contact / told girl / you lookin’ thick today / told cover 

the back of your neck / oh my god you tan sooo quickly / told no cover up 

in that shade / we can see your nipples / told sheer’s the new black / told you’re

the new black / told not-black enough / told not-desi enough / told pretty

as a white girl / told upper caste / told female circumcision / told witches hunted

in the country you call homeland / told you’re just lucky

to be here / told life begins at consummation / told only sluts take

birth control / stop acting so american / told ration’s king / told get

an education / stop acting like a crazy / told bitch / but i don’t think of you

as indian / told get on your knees / told bitch / your hips are for gripping

& riding / told swallow / told always swallow / told they think it’s sooo hot

all you have to do is swallow & make eye contact but not for 

too long / told gold makes brown skin glow / told silver’s cheap & you a bad

bitch / told stop whining pussy by the cop who pushed you

against a palm tree / told just like the rest of these immigrants / told

entitled / told spoiled / told mop up the shit in the coffee shop bathroom /

you’re fifteen & the twenty-one-year-old line cook gives you a cigarette every time

you flash him / told bitch you gotta work for that money / told only sluts

work for their money / so pretty you won’t have to work a day

in your life / told you only got one life & look at you out here

wasting it.

Self Portrait in the Oppressors Vernacul
Photo Credit: Raena Shirali

Raena Shirali is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), which won the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. Her poetry has received a Pushcart Prize, Gulf Coast’s 2014 Poetry Prize, a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, a VIDA scholarship, a Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University, Cosmonauts Avenue’s 2016 Poetry Prize, has been featured on the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, and has appeared widely in American Poetry Review, The Nation, Poetry Daily, Blackbird, Diode, and elsewhere. She lives in Philadelphia, where she teaches, serves as Poetry Editor for Muzzle Magazine, and is on the editorial team for Vinyl.

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