Featured Artwork: ‘The Prophet’s Daughters’, a series by Gheorghe Virtosu


Sometimes people don’t recognize my name

They hear it and say it’s unique

It’s an old Arabic name, I tell them

What does it mean, they ask

I tell them I’m not sure, as far as I know it doesn’t mean anything

And then after a minute

An hour, a day, a month

They say it the way they recognize it

Like welcoming back a distant cousin

‘Ah, Kalthoum!’

‘You mean Kulthum?’

‘Accha, Kulsoom!’

They say it in Arabic, they say it in Urdu

I have never really minded being an Indian derivative of Arab history

I am named for a woman I never met

Who was named for a woman she never met. And it goes on

Till the years roll back like a Persian carpet across a marbled floor

To a woman we never met

To a woman we only know through her father

Too young to have made herself known back then

Too woman to have made herself known back then.

I wonder if she could write poetry, even if, like her, it didn’t survive

Even if a woman before her, who had her name

Birthed a son to poetry

Did she survive to see it?

Woman after woman after woman

‘The one with beautiful cheeks’ to

‘The small ribbon on a flag of victory’ to

‘The Prophet’s daughter’ to

‘That’s okay, really. I don’t mind that it doesn’t mean anything.’

How many existing words in existing languages can claim that?

That they are, and yet they are lost to time?

An Indian with an Arab name

Muslimhood carrying the legacy of a woman across countries

Even if history could not remember her

Like it remembered her father

Her husband

Her sister

Nameless without a name

They say she was full-figured

I look at my body, and I am looking at heritage

It was said she had a sense of humor

I whisper to my father across the dinner table and watch him laugh

And I feel grateful that I’m named for her

I don’t want to limit her to her cheeks

Or make her part of a battle she never fought in

There is more meaning in nothing than that which does not feel truthful

Whether I trace myself back to the Prophet’s daughter

Or the poet’s mother

Or my own great grandmother

I carry the empty memory of them all

Like a shadow in my hand.


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