Hifsa Ashraf is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Honorable Mention for 2020 for her volume Her Fading Henna Tattoo (Wilmington DE: Human/Kind Press, 2020).
Commentary from the Panel:
In Pakistan, where Hisfa Ashraf lives, as well as in other cultures of the world, a wedding ceremony involves the bride’s hands and feet being covered in temporary tattoos of henna. They are beautiful and individualistic but, unlike ink and needle tattoos, henna fades over days and weeks. But the beauty of henna is not what this book is about. Instead, it focuses on the short life of the tattoos of henna and the all-too-often corresponding fade in the relationship between husband and wife.
Dealing with spousal abuse can be necessary but often tricky for a poet. The acts associated with abuse are sometimes brutally overt but often accompanied by equally painful mental and emotional torture. Those events speak all too loudly in themselves. But Ashraf has taken the voice of the victims to tell the story, not just emotionally but with a clinical view of both the subtle and overt pain that has been inflicted over time.
in family rituals
her free will
It would be tempting by some to note Ashraf’s location and culture and place the blame for the domestic abuse she speaks of on the environment of birth alone. Nothing could be further from the truth. In many western countries the laws may say one thing, but the actions of families who wish to protect abuser reputations, and the intimidation that victims all too often find greets them if they complain, can be just as insidious.
from one protector to another inherited property
Women do not need protection in the sense of a life whose only faint security is in the hands of others. Certainly, they deserve the same opportunities to exercise their talents and abilities as any other member of society regardless of gender or status of birth. Only in the last hundred years have women begun to see these changes start to occur.
broken window —
the jigsaw puzzle
of her marital life
Obvious signs of violence in a house are the telltale signs of deeper issues. The window in this poem is a metaphor for a marriage that has forever changed for the victim. Can it ever be put back together again? Will anyone help reconstruct the victim and help her find purpose and fulfillment in her life? If you have ever tried to put hundreds of pieces of glass back together again you know that it will never be the same. More importantly, will the victim herself survive physically or mentally? The unseen pieces of abuse lie deep within the victims themselves.
Speaking up for victims of abuse can have its own unsavory reward also. It allows the very people who perpetrate and cover it up to blame all of those that attempt to shine a light on this behavior. Hifsa Ashraf has put herself on the line and done so with a poetic sense and a collection of images that let the reader fill in the true portrait of domestic abuse. It is both sensitive to the victim but done with the quiet and effectively channeled anger of a true poet.
Indeed, the beauty of the marriage henna fades. But so too should the harm that is done to any victim of domestic abuse. This book will prompt you to think, act, and take actions to support victims of abuse, and we owe Ashraf a debt of gratitude for all her work to bring this issue into the daylight. This is wonderfully crafted poetry and, as with all of Ashraf’s books, the profits assist in the eradication of domestic abuse and the care of its victims. Thank you, Hifsa Ashraf, for being brave and a poet at the same time!
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.