Writer-in-Residence Program, Detroit International Academy for Young Women & Citywide Poets

Knowing all I need is a pen and paper to go from a seventh-grader who liked poems to performing at the White House has made me appreciate just how much a little push in the right direction can take you.”

Apology to My Father

Sakila Islam

My father has the pride of a thousands suns

The kind of pride that leaks out of him as he walks

The kind of pride that radiates from him as he talks

The kind of pride that’s so bright that I can’t even look him in the eyes

sometimes

My father’s pride is as deep as the ancient green forests behind his

Bangladeshi home and as strong as the rigid jackfruit trees that stand tall

even during the monsoon season floods.

And that’s why I know that he will never accept my apologies.

Dear father,

You came to this country with only the clothes on your back and the hopes

and dreams of your family in your pocket

Hopes and dreams so heavy that they weighed you down with every step you

took, putting so much pressure on you that you kneeled to the ground in

prayer time and time again

I’m sorry that this country will not accept you

I’m sorry that your skin is too brown, too similar to dirt to be worth anything,

if anything it’s only good for their cheap labor

I’m sorry your English is too broken, like jagged shards of glass—maybe

they’re too afraid of cutting themselves on your sentence fragments so they

clench their fists full of insults before even getting to know you

I’m sorry your faith is too strong, that it’s become a threat to the people

around you. Instead of realizing how beautiful your voice sounds coming

from the minaret of a mosque, they silence your needs and turn a deaf ear to

your problems

It’s been two decades since my father came here, and he’s begun swallowing

his pride like diabetes pills

Doctor’s orders: be unseen, unheard. Unless you were born in this country,

you’ll always have second priority while sitting in the waiting room

But my father’s sight has gone bad from turning a blind eye to the people

who mock him so many times, that he can’t even read the fine print on his

prescription.

Maybe that’s why he takes a little too much, overdosing on becoming

a pushover, in a society that has no problems pushing him over the edge, father

I’m sorry

I’m sorry I’m writing a poem to you in a language you’ll never fully

understand

I’m sorry I don’t even have the ability to properly tell you how much I love

you because they didn’t teach me your mother tongue in the school I was

adopted into

I’m sorry this country is such a cruel lover to you, binding you to it with

blackmail

I know you’re only in this destructive relationship for the sake of your

children

And your children, with one foot in America and the other in Bangladesh,

know you can’t fight a war when you’re standing at the border

So when people fire insults, they follow in your footsteps, overdosing on

silence

Swallowing the pride of a thousand suns, and becoming shadows that can

only carry

Apologies

Sakila Islam is a Bangladeshi immigrant, and an alumnus of both our Writer-in-Residence program at Detroit International Academy for Young Women and Citywide Poets. An incredibly accomplished young writer, Sakila has spoken at TEDxDetroit and appeared on Good Morning Washington. In 2016, Sakila was invited to the White House as part of the conversation, “Generational Experiences of Asian Americans,” where she performed her poem “Apology to My Father,” a poem that bridges the divide between generations of immigrants. Here she talks about how InsideOut got her there:

If I didn’t have InsideOut, I wouldn’t have come to love art. I wouldn’t have even come to know art. And I definitely wouldn’t be here today creating art…. Knowing all I need is a pen and paper to go from a seventh-grader who liked poems to performing at the White House has made me appreciate just how much a little push in the right direction can take you.

If I hadn’t found out about InsideOut all those years ago, I wouldn’t be me today. I wouldn’t have been able to share all these thoughts and feelings and images inside of me to the world. I wouldn’t be able to stand up for myself and my people. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to state my beliefs, and that too, though the beautiful language of poetry. It showed me that I could DO something.”

Sakila is currently attending the University of Michigan and studying International Studies. She still participates in InsideOut programming in a leadership role by facilitating workshops for current InsideOut students. The community she built at Citywide Poets have supported her present creative endeavors:

“The slam team easily became a second family for me. They’ve nurtured and encouraged me through tough times and been there with me to celebrate my successes. Being around such accepting and supporting free spirits has boosted my self-love to new heights and instilled in me confidence to pursue my craft in the coming years. Whenever I hit a writing block or encounter a situation that requires me to express my thoughts, a quick talk with any of the slam team members is enough to get me back to writing. They’re given me some of the greatest memories of my life.”

Hear Sakila read “Apology to My Father” on Michigan Radio

See Sakila on Good Morning Washington

Watch Sakila speak at TEDxDetroit