Body canvas*

By rui zhou

after Wafaa Bilal & Ronak Kapadia


In the body, where everything is out

of place. i want a map tattooed on my back

There should be a map key of tea pots and sim cards &

when a Muslim auntie pours lemon ginger for a sister in Mazar-e-Sharif or a Uyghur uncle calls

his mother in Kashgar: how are you &

your tomatoes and apricots. That’s when i globe around my shoulders & find my people


i want a map on my back & if they come for you i can’t turn my back even

if they don’t come for me yet even

if mama spits shells of sunflower seeds & squints

what the fuck are you crying for even

if study suggests china isn’t syria & even

if my body domesticates disasters by holding hostage another country’s rivers


This map can’t be made by the cia calculating

billions into cold mines & coming out hot blooded monsoons

This map can’t be body counts & body cams

This map can’t be minced by hellfire missiles

This map can’t be plotted by gps or grief or grenade

This map can’t be about brown pain or cause brown people pain. Nobody


can hold this map upside down like columbus sucking the marrow out of my peoples’ land—

gold or coal or petrol—without choking on my ribs cus i swallow pipelines too

Nobody destroys high-value targets to save my grandmas & cousins & nephews

No one shoots a terrorist, no, not even in video games & when i stitch my people onto my torso

No one wipes you out with a drone-soap, oops, system error: one million corpses

No one is stopped-and-frisked. No shrapnels in my lovers. In the spine


i want the map guide me to grandma’s lullabies: lavender field in bomb bunker where we

silent dance party all night to songs swollen in your stomach

i want the map a recipe: cinnamon, coriander, cloves, cumin, curry leaf—my people

slice onions, tomatoes, chili peppers & sauté & simmer in my pelvis—my people

slow stew protection spells in apricot preserve & when you disappear I save you

jars unopened for your return


In the body, where everything is out

of place. i want a map tattooed on my back where patrols are orange peels—my people

in one piece, spiral indefinite extension from Sheikh Jarrah to Altishahr to Guantánamo &

When mama sweeps sunflower seeds shells & asks

So what the fuck are you crying for, i turn my back & show her—my people

are everywhere even we always miss each other


Mama, i am part citrus, part cyborg & i offer hands full of jam

by which i mean sticky prayers spread thickly across my back


Stay safe. Take care.





*Written against the “global war on terror” & in solidarity with the peoples affected by the forever wars. For a full statement of meaning, see



  1. This is a love poem & small prayer for the peoples affected by the ongoing “war on terror” in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, China, in diaspora and beyond. As someone from China and someone not racialized as a “terrorist” body by the forever wars, I want to reclaim “my people” in multiplicity and solidarity, and speak against both US and Chinese imperialist-nationalist definitions of “the people” vis-a-viz “the terrorist”. It is an attempt in homage to & in conversation with the Iraqi American artist Wafaa Bilal’s 2010 performance … and Counting and the scholar Ronak Kapadia’s essay about Bilal’s work. In a 24-hour live performance, Bilal’s back was tattooed with a borderless map of Iraq covered with one dot for each Iraqi and American casualty near the cities where they fell.

2.  This is also inspired by poems of love: in particular, Fatimah Asghar’s If They Should Come for Us, Danez Smith’s Dinosaurs in the Hood, and Solmaz Sharif’s Reaching Guantánamo.

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