Arooj Anwar

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Paper Renaissance

Paper makes a comeback

on the walls of those who dream in wonder,

neat blocks of meticulous

black and white words,

lines across meshed sheets.

Working hands commemorate their

contribution, through tea stains and accidental

paint scratches on edges,

messy grains of unevenness.

Blue-tac leaves rounded stains

on the posters hanging in bedrooms:

the boy band fanatics,

the movie star idealists; the superheroes.

It provides solitude, to those who want to escape

into remnants of places that once were.

If you’re a dreamer, come in. If you’re a wisher,

a liar, a pretender, a hoper, a pray-er, come.

Its crisp concaves will keep your secrets:

through lines, narrow-ruled,

through the plain versions of 100gsm,

through those colours, an iridescent

spectrum of pastels and brights.

But black and blue pen blotches seep through

pages and reveal the years that have passed in its bark,

k a l e i d o s c o p e s of other lives.


I am the child of an immigrant.

I’m the one here to steal your job, a multilingual masterpiece,

shalwar kameez with Jimmy Choos, a pasta bake with too much chilli powder.

I am a Muslim.

The dirty terrorist here to blow you up, the call to prayer five times a day,

the fasting and the furious once a year, mates with Adam and Eve, oh and Jesus too.

I am a survivor of a ‘broken home.’

Age of seven, questioned by the police, those brown envelopes from HMRC,

45-minute school walks in torrential rain—coming home to Asda Smart Price beans.

I am a woman.

Rape whistles and car key shanks, ignoring cat-calls from dodgy white vans,

saying no and no and no again—‘But aren’t you going to let me have any fun?’

I am a teacher.

Red pen on the whiteboard and gold stars in their books.

Alliteration and rhymes running free, ‘Miss! Miss! I really need a wee!’

And if all else perished and nothing remained, I’d still be part of the

‘No, not even water’ crew—still a two-mile walk to school,

and when someone asks me what I am, I’ll have to say that ‘I am a poet.’

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Gated garden, hidden hedges and plum trees.

Bridal bouquets, white veil. Ann Summers, silk, lace—leather.

Tickles. Cold hands, burning skin. Shared bed, pulling the duvet.

Morning kisses—French. Post-shower towel song and dance.

Crisp white shirt, the blue dress. Oh, that blue dress.

The happy couple: framed. Post-work naps. The bloody naps.

Tea-time TV: Only Fools and Horses, Friends, Friday Night Dinner.

Laughter and lunacy. Enchiladas and nachos; extra guacamole.

No chicken and mushroom pie—he doesn’t like the pastry I use.

‘My mum is on the phone.’ Words mouthed—‘pretend I’m not here.’

Paper plates for him and the red floral ones from Dunelm for me.

‘Let’s eat at my mum’s tonight; it’s been a while.’ I do as I’m told.

Tesco; I travel further to get there—he doesn’t like Asda.

Crying in the fruit and vegetable aisle. Approach the front door.

Breathe. One step, two steps, smile, kiss—flinch later.

‘I told you I’m not going to your mum’s!’ Smashed vase—

flinch again. Four hours. Driving alone every other weekend, M6 tolls.

‘Why doesn’t he visit?’—I avoid eye contact and the truth.

Anxiety attack: tears, bin, vomit. He mimics me as I suffer.

‘Are you going to sulk or are you coming back to bed?’

I still do as I’m told. Cold hands, burning skin.

Taunts, mimics, fights—doors light; slammed heavy.

A diamond ring put back; white box, satin bow—

subdued laughter, ‘Don’t be oversensitive.’

A Decade in the Making


I saw you today for the first time. You had one foot against the wall

outside Primark on Market Street where the trams circled.

My feet touched the platform: ballet pumps

flared coat black lace dress lipstick—

that came off as soon as you noticed me.


I saw you today. We sat and planned; walk-in closet for all my shoes,

en-suite bathroom for your morning shower and shave. And the kitchen table,

the kitchen table—me, you, Maya, Isaac.

We sat across your mother for the first time,

‘Those chairs are for our future kids,’ you whispered.

Face suddenly crimson, your leg slapped playfully.


When I saw you next,

you were smiling in a photo I stumbled across,

sitting next to a bride who wasn’t me.

She would now have to pretend to laugh

at your jokes, sit with you at that kitchen table,

and I an anecdote you tell

of your foolish youth.


I saw you again today. Tan line on your fourth finger,

a little less hair on your head—some greys in mine.

‘Round 2?’ you smirked.

Sharp exhale eyes rolled fists clenched.

Worn out windows of my primary school

reflecting your grin.

‘Get your foot off my car.’

The Chapel

There’s something about those rows and rows of rickety old chairs,

the ones with the uncomfortable metal back rests and barely any

padding; they aren’t used for Sunday mass anymore. Maybe

it’s the faultless maroon, bumpy carpet that has witnessed so much,

just like these never-ending walls. Mary and Jesus stand majestic,

stained glass windows – primary reds, secondary greens; those autumn

ambers, in rough panes, some smooth, some blurred, but all letting in

the faint light from the moon outside; the sound of the birds eventually

speaking to me in their foreign tongues.

But I continue to sit in this place, on those same rickety chairs,

thinking of how this chapel is no longer a sanctuary for the insane;

it’s exercise classes twice a week – yoga and aerobics,

late nights spent playing cards and ordering fried chicken

at 3am – secrets told, in those post-midnight ‘chats about life.’

Faded yellow paint and specs of glitter on the once spotless

carpet from making our own impromptu birthday banners;

scattered memories of learning how to play a piano ballad, Adele,

Someone Like You, taught to me by a Palestinian Californian engineer.

The wedding march that blared from the speakers some years ago still

appears through masses of annual photos that hang on carte blanche walls;

decades of memories soak into faces of pictures; and soon, I too,

will be another face on the wall for generations to come and wonder about;

hidden in those washed-out velvet curtains that are almost too heavy to draw,

faded into ombre from the sunlight that shines through gaps in broken roof tiles

that let in the wind; even these industrial radiators from the 60’s

can’t eliminate the chill that lingers in the air sometimes.

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