The House on Shaheen Street
The first time I saw it, I thought it was a palace. Average-
sized and gray, it seemed to me the most beautiful house
in the country. My parents searched far and wide to source
wood for doors and windows, snowy marble for countertops.
They lovingly commissioned each carving on the dining table.
The staircase had to be rebuilt, not because they were exacting,
but because the first crumbled under the feet of four excited little
girls running up and down before it was ready for them. When cash
ran out, they shelved plans to build the two additional rooms upstairs.
Still, the place never felt small, nor unfinished. Theirs was the tallest
house on the block, but that wasn’t what made it special. In the summer,
we gathered in the garden garnished with limes and guavas and mangoes,
flowers of many kinds. In the winter, my mother holding forth in front
of a little gas heater in her bedroom was the center of our little universe.
A short while after the sudden passing of my father in May 2019, I turned to poetry to process my grief and document his life. I soon realized that, since I was informally adopted by my mother’s parents and grew up in a different city from my parents and siblings, I did not have a large bank of memories to excavate. Around that time my friend, the poet Emily Hillebrand, shared a poem about her childhood home, and that gave me another way in to accessing my father’s life. My parents built two houses during the course of their lives together. This poem is about the first of them, my favorite one of the two homes.
Fatima Malik (she/her) is a fundraiser and poet with work published or forthcoming in Door is a Jar, diode poetry journal, The Georgia Review, The Margins, and others. She is working on her first full-length collection of poems, an excavation of grief after her father’s sudden death. She has a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and a joint MA in Journalism and Near Eastern Studies from New York University. While she currently lives in NYC, her heart is forever in Lahore. Find her on Twitter @FaZeMalik.