"Appapa stitches a frock for me": Aathma Nirmala Dious' Poems Weave Stories Into Verses

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"Appapa stitches a frock for me": Aathma Nirmala Dious' Poems Weave Stories Into Verses

Poetry by Aathma Nirmala Dious

Picture of Home, I mean Abu Dhabi–I would draw on a postcard

The first view I always have of you, my city, is through a window. Car windows. Taxi windows. Green-tinted bus windows. Apartment building windows. Sunsets from my small apartment window are trapped in pink-purple-orange-blue coloured sand layered in glass bottles to sell to tourists. Your name in your language makes me wonder what it will take to call you mine.

In the shadows cast by your many concrete fingers, walk my people on the lines of your palm. My people–your people–make an anthem of all the words for the home we know and sing it to you.

Catch the glint in the many dark eyes like mine, dancing lights in this electric skyline. In the alleyways of your buildings ricocheted the crack of a cricket bat to ball and small slippers to tiles. We are the oil that keeps you smooth, shiny, wheels turning. They call you a machine but forget how much life you are. You love our hands and our smiles so we hide the rest of ourselves you wouldn’t love in your shadows.

Your white street lamps in-between small roads were my moonlight and under it, I sang love songs to you in Malayalam. My Acha harmonized along with nostalgia and waits to sing to you like this someday. You told him long before to save his songs for when he has to leave you. Some songs can’t be kept inside so he sang them so softly to you, only I would hear them. I sing you into a veedu. You tell me to only call you by your name.

You taught me how goodbye felt long before I learned the word but Malayalam does not have a word for goodbye.


Appapa stitches a frock for me

Appapa takes the cloth from Acha
and in minutes, makes it blueprint–
chuckles with my simile
“A skirt like a princess!”
His tailor’s chalk drawing the outlines,
geometric puzzle, in hard blue.

He wields his scissors,
flickering with a fluorescent glow,
sharp as my tongue,
small in his long fingers.
Silver gleaming, cloth splitting
under the blade, a parting Red sea

My head turns left and right at the shapes,
The fan whirs empty in my head,
Appapa pats my hair, squinted eye smile:
“We put all we know together to make sense”
And then gulps his fire whiskey.
The rumble of thunder closes the door,
his grumble sharpens his blade,
As the scrap cloth becomes
a lasso in my cousin’s hands.

Thu thu thu thu Thu
Pedal hums from
Appapa’s sewing machine–
An old classic, spinning wheel whirs
black curves, sharp needle
brings together two pieces,
stranger to each other
And joins them with another.
thu thu thu thu Thu
The rain greets the window in front,
I sit next to him with my blank page,
And on it flows:
the red swirls of the cloth,
A snip of the thread,
soldering fire in his dark eyes
melding the frock together–
Arm to chest, waist to skirt,
Skirt to the air, folds welcoming
the whisper of the rain.

Let out the sides to add more,
Tighten the waist to fit and sharpen,
Ribbon flourish to pull it together.

Patterns dancing as I become my own princess,
Appapa sits by the rain with a chuckle
“You’ve grown.”
His hand patting his chest, a pedal–
thu thu thu thu thu
is the fire from his eyes now there?
I ask Acha about Appapa’s fire,
Acha pats my head
“Appapa has always been burning”

Years after Appapa’s last frock for me,
His sewing machine waiting
in the rain across the sea, silent–
Acha watches, hand on chest,
the old, familiar fire in my eyes,
shaping the cloth of my imagination
to similes, patterns, outlines–
I draw out a hard blue chalk line
through the smell of smoke
and stitch it into a poem.



Cranes are the same orange as the 6 pm sun just before it sinks below the horizon of the corniche. Their silhouettes cut through the sky, Goliath in size with their strong bones and hook that could pick you up and fling you out, like David’s slingshot.

My younger self was scared of them and hid behind my Acha, complaining: They are nothing like in the books. Where are their wings? Acha comforted me: they are are not as scary as they look, they will listen if you are patient, if you don’t make them take too much weight too high. You see, these cranes love standing tall. They help me to build buildings to make a city, to make a home for you, Kanna. I imagine their large wheel feet turning to come to Acha, smiling with the sunrise glint on their hooks before they rise up their necks, carrying the block of concrete up and up and up.

One day, Acha took me to meet the cranes. Before that, he gave me a yellow work helmet just like his. Wear it and don’t take it off, Kanna. Sometimes the cranes can get tired and drop the stones on us. Acha held my left hand as I waved hi with my right and touched their smooth orange body. The crane vibrated with a laugh: Watch, child, how I lift this imported marble to make a Mosque–even the houses of God need help from us.

One night, I ran from Acha, my yellow cap catching the moonlight as I touched the crane and woke them up. The Crane rumbled, lifted up their head, eyes lit up: Watch out, Child. I am not the birds you read of. I am made a tool. Just like I bring up these buildings that do not thank me, I bring down your blue-clad people who help me, after their hearts are pierced by the sun.


Aathma Nirmala Dious is a student at New York University Abu Dhabi, pursuing a B.A in Literature and Creative Writing. She is an Indian (Malayali) expat born and brought up in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Aathma has performed for the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s first anniversary and the NYUAD Arts Center’s Hekayah 2018. She was voted Best New Artist for Rooftop Rhythms Abu Dhabi 2017-18 season (1st poetry open mic in the Middle East). She is published in The Gazelle, Postscript and Electra Street.

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