17 pages 34 minutes read

Fatimah Asghar

If They Should Come for Us

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Fatimah Asghar’s poem, “If They Should Come for Us” is the title poem of the poet’s debut full-length collection, If They Come for Us, published by One World/Random House in 2018. It first appeared in Poetry Magazine in 2017. The poem is composed of free unrhymed verse in a single stanza. It is largely written in lower case, with the exception of the capitalization of the first-person singular pronoun (“I”). No punctuation appears in the poem.

Asghar is a member of The Dark Noise Collective, described as a “nationwide, multiracial, multi-genre collective” that explores “themes of identity, intersectionality, trauma, and healing in accessible forms” (Poetry Foundation). “If They Should Come for Us” reflects the philosophy and aims of the collective, incorporating poetic craft to address contemporary issues that affecting—and imperil—diverse communities. The poem recalls images of historic violence with a fresh sense of immediacy. At the same time, “If They Should Come for Us” is a celebration of humanity, offering readers a message of salvation through solidarity.

Poet Biography

Fatimah Asghar is a multi-genre artist, poet, filmmaker, educator, and performer. Her mother, originally from Jammu and Kashmir, fled the violence of the Indian Partition, which was the 1947 division of British India into India and Pakistan. Her father was from Pakistan. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Lahore. Both her mother and father died when Asghar was very young. Asghar’s experience growing up as an orphan plays a significant role in Asghar’s work.

As an undergraduate at Brown University, Asghar learned more about the Indian Partition and how it affected her family. She began to relate more deeply to her family’s history as refugees and to question how historical violence and resultant trauma can reverberate through generations and across countries.

In addition to If They Come for Us (2018), Asghar is the author of the chapbook, After (Yes Yes Books, 2015), and the co-editor, with Sofia Elhillo, of Halal If You Hear Me, (Haymarket Books, 2019), an anthology of Muslim writers who identify as women, queer, gender nonconforming and/or transgender. As a Fulbright scholar, Asghar studied theater in post-genocidal countries and created a spoken word poetry group in Bosnia and Herzegovina called REFLEKS. She has served as a Kundiman Fellow. Her work appears in Poetry Magazine, Academy of American Poets, and many other journals. NPR, Huffington Post, PBS, Time, and Teen Vogue have all featured her work. Asghar was awarded the Ruth Lily and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation in 2017. She co-created and is the writer for Brown Girls, the Emmy-nominated web series that celebrates women of color and their friendships.

Poem Text

Asghar, Fatimah. “If They Should Come for Us.” 2017. The Poetry Foundation.


“If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar takes the form of a single stanza of 46 lines of free verse. The poem begins with the phrase “these are my people” (Line 1). The speaker of the poem proceeds to describe the people the speaker finds “on the street” (Line 2). Although these people are “a dance of strangers in my blood” (Line 5), the speaker refers to them throughout the poem as “my people” (Line 4): “the old woman” (Line 6), her “bindi a new moon on her forehead” (Line 7); “the toddler” (Line 10) with flyaway hair; and the “sikh uncle at the airport / who apologizes for the pat / down” (Lines 13-15). In the lines that follow, the speaker describes a “muslim man who abandons / his car” (Lines 15-16) to pray and a “muslim man who sips / good whiskey” (Lines 18-19), as well as a “lone khala” (Line 20)—or auntie—dressed in a mix of traditional South Asian clothing and contemporary casual footwear, “pairing her kurta with crocs” (Line 21).

In the second half of the poem the speaker makes a declaration: “my people I can’t be lost / when I see you” (line 22-23). The speaker recognizes the disparate individuals as a connected community, a family to which the speaker also belongs: “I claim them all” (Line 28). On line 31, the speaker makes a statement of solidarity, saying “if they come for you they / come for me too” (Lines 31-32). The final third of the poem offers readers images of “a flock of / aunties” (Lines 32-33) and “a colony of uncles” (Line 36) whom the speaker follows “like constellations” (Line 38). Violence enters the poem through the sonic image of “glass smashing the street” (Line 39) and the assertion that “our names [are] this country’s wood / for the fire” (Lines 41-42). The speaker acknowledges a notion of history that reaches both backward and forward with “the long years we’ve survived the long / years yet to come” (Lines 43-44), and sees a way forward through hardship by “the light your lantern long / ahead” (Lines 45-46).