Aap is for aunts, uncles, grandparents—all our elders—my mother would remind us

Tuum is for your friends, younger brothers and sisters, the kids at school, the strangers in the store

In the summers my relatives from India would slowly

stream into our tiny American townhouse

We would bend our heads to show piety with a formal aap

the greeting that made my mother proud

We were not those bastard American children who lost their traditions

calling everyone you and yo

We knew how to say salaam in deference with our hands cusped

our heads lowered making sure not to stare at any body parts above the knees

The summer that I turned sixteen was when I used the aap with my visiting aunt and uncle

They came to stay for a few months and lived in our basement with their young children

Young cousins that I watched when they roamed the labyrinth of suburban strip malls

In the hot months of June and July when I played the role of the well-educated dutiful daughter

So how could I tell my mother years later as a grown woman that the aap of my uncle

Fondled me in the basement when she was away and when I knew all along

That our elders are supposed to protect us and shield us from the world outside

Not to press their adult bodies against us like a tuum on the streets

To show respect for those who are wiser than us and who are revered

Not be shunned and silenced as we bow our heads to the aap before us


Samina Hadi-Tabassum is an associate professor at the Erikson Institute in Chicago. Her first book of poems, Muslim Melancholia (2017), was published by Red Mountain Press. She has published poems in Tin House, Clockhouse, Conduit, East Lit Journal, Soul-Lit, Journal of Postcolonial Literature, Papercuts, The Waggle, Indian Review, Classical Poets, Mosaic, Main Street Rag, Connecticut River Review, Pilgrimage Literary Journal, riksha, and These Fragile Lilacs. Her poems were performed on stage as a part of the Kundiman Foundation and Emotive Fruition event focusing on Asian American poetry in 2016. She was a 2018 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Performance finalist for the Guild Complex competition in Chicago. She has also published a short story titled "Maqbool" in the New Orleans Review journal in June 2018 and now it is a chapter in a Penguin anthology on Muslim writers.