Seema Reza

Five Poems from When the World Breaks Open


We were generations of women raising women—had no idea what it took to birth broad shoulders and weak stomachs.

If you raise a girl poorly she got no self-respect, uses her body like a bargaining chip, starves herself when she should eat, eats when she should be wearing her bathing suit in the sun. But poorly raised men have been breaking havoc with force for more generations than I can count.

How much power does one wield in raising a person who is the inheritor of power? Who was I to have the responsibility of teaching a child to grow into a man, when his father is just a boy? When I was just a girl using her body as a bargaining chip?



This morning as my sons got into the car ahead of me, I had a sudden, throat constricting realization that their limbs are lengthening and soon beards will start growing and there are people in the world who are already afraid of their names.

Sometimes Zaki needs to sit in my lap and cry while I hold him and even when my arms are no longer big enough to encircle him and my legs aren’t strong enough to bear his weight, he will be my child, just as all men are somebody’s son.



I gave you a red toothbrush after we fell asleep on the sofa watching a Japanese remake of that show where a witch marries a mortal and becomes a housewife. In the Japanese version the special effects are different, but the conflict is the same: a woman apologizing for her power, a man tolerating her in spite of it.


What I Want

Sometimes I think I wish for: a slick, sleek ponytail to replace the unruly strands encircling my head.

I think I wish for: peep-toed pumps, a platinium band tucked neatly behind a perfect diamond ring.

I think maybe I want: the minivan, the Mercedes, Capri pants, contact lenses, a sparkling wooden smile.

But if I really wanted those things, wouldn’t I brush my hair?



Karim taught me to drive stick shift on a dark road by “the lake”–a pit where water was deposited each monsoon when the city drowned.

The front windshield of his car was cracked from when he’d punched it and the windows were so tinted, I never could tell how late it was when we were driving around, smoking Marlboro Reds.

When we met, he was smoking Lights and I said he may as well smoke tampons. So he switched and we kept on. Me driving, then him.


All poems reprinted from When the World Breaks Open, Red Hen Press, 2016, with permission of the author.


Red Hen Press is committed to publishing works of literary excellence, supporting diversity, and promoting literacy in schools in the Los Angeles area. They seek a community of readers and writers who are actively engaged in the essential human practice known as literature. Founded in 1994, Red Hen publishes poetry, literary fiction, and nonfiction.


Seema Reza is the author of When the World Breaks Open, a memoir of essays and poetry (Red Hen Press, 2016). Based outside of Washington, DC, she coordinates and facilitates a unique multi-hospital arts program that encourages the use of the arts as a tool for narration, self-care and socialization among a population struggling with emotional and physical injuries. Her writing has appeared in print and on-line in Entropy, The Feminist Wire, Bellevue Literary Review, The Offing, Full Grown People, and The Nervous Breakdown among others. She is the Chair of Community Building Art Works. Her second book, a collection of poetry is forthcoming from Write Bloody in 2019.