Clean Girls | Sarah Fathima Mohammed

& on Saturday, before we squished plums 
in our fists and rubbed the color on our mouths—
as if we could afford to replace our hunger 
with a bruised beauty—and took pictures 
of ourselves with so much flash 
our mouths looked like flowers in the parched desert 
of our bodies, we walked to Chinnamma’s home 
that smelled like girls and sweat. She opened 
her hairless dark arms and boiled orange wax
in a plastic cup while we stripped. Clean, clean
chellams, she crooned, while she rubbed 
the hot wax all over our arms and legs and stomachs 
and foreheads and cheeks. When the wax dried, she ripped it 
with her hands, & we held the pain like uneaten plums, soft 
like our new, swollen, red, clean bodies, soft 
like our wet mouths, soft like the white-laced pictures 
we loved—this is what we wanted to be: soft, soft, soft. 
When Chinnama ripped the wax, sometimes it didn’t hurt. 
When it didn’t hurt, we cried—we wanted our hair 
to believe it belonged like flowers under a desert’s palm. 
We wanted our hair to love us more 
than we did. We wanted to be clean enough to be fought for. 


Sarah Fathima Mohammed is a brown, Muslim-American writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work appears or is forthcoming in DIALOGIST, Diode, Apprentice Writer, Frontier Poetry, and elsewhere. She has been named a 2021 YoungArts Finalist in Writing (Poetry) and has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Poetry Society of the UK, and the National Poetry Quarterly’s Editors’ Choice Prize, among others. When she is not writing, she serves as managing editor for The Aurora Review and executive editor for Polyphony Lit.                    

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.