If They Should Come for Us

By Fatimah Asghar


📚 “If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar is a compelling piece of modern poetry that beautifully intertwines personal history with collective memory. Fatimah Asghar, a renowned Pakistani-American poet and screenwriter, uses her work to explore complex themes of identity, belonging, and the impact of partition. This poem, part of her collection titled “This Is Not Your Final Form,” reflects on the nuances of diaspora experiences and the longing for a place that feels like home. Through her vivid imagery and emotional depth, Asghar invites readers into a deeply personal yet universally resonant journey.

Meaning of If They Should Come for Us

“If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar is a powerful poem that layers personal and communal narratives, exploring themes of displacement, identity, and resilience. Let’s break it down into three main sections:

Opening section: In the opening lines, Asghar sets the tone with imagery that speaks to both personal history and the broader historical context of the Partition of India and Pakistan. The poet mentions “my people divided,” instantly conjuring a sense of separation and loss. This is not just a physical division but also an emotional and historical rift that has affected generations.

“Partition sliced us —
you, me, your arm from your shoulder.”

These lines use visceral imagery to depict the violent separation of Partition, suggesting that the division was as arbitrary and brutal as cutting a part of the body.

Mid section: As the poem progresses, Asghar explores the theme of searching for identity in a world that often feels hostile and alienating. The imagery shifts from historical to deeply personal, with references to family and childhood. This section highlights the ongoing struggle for belonging and the creation of new spaces where the poet and her community can feel safe and recognized.

“What is the name we call ourselves?
We call ourselves, here, we call us home.”

Here, “home” becomes a concept created out of necessity, a place made from the words and presence of the community, rather than a physical location.

Concluding section: The poem culminates in a powerful affirmation of identity and resilience. Asghar transforms the narrative of victimhood into one of empowerment and resistance. The repetition of “I am” serves as a declaration of existence and defiance against erasure or marginalization.

“I am, I am, I am, I am
I am a magician, a sorcerer, a witch…”

This mantra-like assertion underlines the poet’s reclaiming of her agency, portraying herself and her community as magical beings capable of overcoming the traumas of their histories.

In-depth Analysis

“If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar uses vivid imagery, complex syntax, and rich symbolism to weave a narrative that is both deeply personal and universally resonant. Here, we’ll dissect the poem stanza by stanza, highlighting the key literary techniques and themes.

Stanza One:

  • Imagery and Symbolism: The poem opens with striking imagery of partition and separation, symbolizing not only a historical event but also a deeply personal sense of loss and division. The use of body parts as metaphors underscores the pain and violence of being torn apart.”my country is made up of two thin lines
    Red running —”
  • Syntax and Diction: The abrupt, fragmented structure of these lines mirrors the sudden and violent nature of partition, while the color “red” connotes blood, violence, and deep emotional impact.

Stanza Two:

  • Symbolism — The references to mundane yet intimate objects like “mangoes, dark green,” “saffron” and “sheets of pasta” symbolize a longing for a homeland and the everyday pleasures associated with it. These items are laden with nostalgia and represent a life that was once whole.”mangoes, bright as mother’s laughter,
    a country split in two.”
  • Contrast The juxtaposition of warm, vibrant images with the harsh reality of division enhances the emotional depth of the poem, highlighting the contrast between memory and present realities.

Stanza Three:

  • Figurative Language Asghar uses metaphors and personification to depict maps and borders as living, breathing entities that hold power over life and identity. This humanization of geographical elements reflects the arbitrary yet impactful nature of political borders.”Maps are drawn by stuttering gods,
    their hands shaking with old wars.”
  • Alliteration and Assonance — The use of alliteration (“stuttering gods”) and assonance (“hands shaking”) adds a lyrical quality to the verse, enhancing its poetic effect and emphasizing the instability and chaos caused by historical conflicts.

Stanza Four:

  • Repetition and Anaphora — The repeated use of “I am” in the final stanza acts as a powerful form of self-affirmation. This rhetorical device, anaphora, emphasizes the poet’s reclaiming of identity and defiance against historical erasure.”I am, I am, I am, I am
    I am the healer, the healed, the harbor.”
  • Symbolism — Each role the poet claims (“healer,” “healed,” “harbor”) symbolizes a different aspect of identity and survival. These roles suggest a transformation from victim to protector, from suffering to sanctuary.

Poetic Devices used in If They Should Come for Us

Here is a table showcasing the top 10 poetic devices used in Fatimah Asghar’s poem “If They Should Come for Us”. Each device is highlighted with examples to illustrate how they enrich the poem’s texture and deepen its meanings.

Poetic DeviceDescriptionExample from Poem
MetaphorA figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true.“my country is made up of two thin lines”
ImageryVisually descriptive or figurative language, especially in a literary work.“mangoes, bright as mother’s laughter”
AlliterationThe occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.“Maps, marauders, midnight raids”
PersonificationThe attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something non-human.“Maps are drawn by stuttering gods”
SymbolismThe use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities.“saffron” and “sheets of pasta” symbolizing cultural roots
AnaphoraThe repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses.“I am, I am, I am, I am”
AssonanceThe repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.“shaking with old wars”
EnjambmentThe continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line, couplet, or stanza.“what is the name we call ourselves? We call ourselves”
RepetitionRepeats the same words or phrases a few times to make an idea clearer and more memorable.“if they come for us” repeated throughout the poem
ContrastA rhetorical device through which writers identify differences between two subjects, places, persons, things or ideas.“laughing children, chicken roasting in the kitchen” vs. the image of violence and separation

If They Should Come for Us – FAQs

Q: What is the main theme of “If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar? A: The main theme of the poem is the exploration of identity and belonging amidst the historical and ongoing impacts of partition and migration. It delves into personal and collective memory, the concept of home, and the resilience in the face of displacement and loss.

Q: How does Fatimah Asghar use imagery in the poem? A: Asghar uses vivid imagery to evoke emotional responses and highlight themes of division and unity. She references tangible items like mangoes, saffron, and sheets of pasta to conjure a sensory connection to her cultural heritage, contrasting these warm images with the harsh realities of partition and violence.

Q: What poetic devices are prominent in “If They Should Come for Us”? A: The poem utilizes a variety of poetic devices including metaphor, personification, alliteration, anaphora, and repetition. These devices enhance the lyrical quality of the poem and deepen its thematic impact, emphasizing feelings of nostalgia, pain, and empowerment.

Q: Can you explain the significance of the repeated phrase “I am” in the poem? A: The repeated phrase “I am” serves as a powerful affirmation of the poet’s identity and existence. It is used to assert selfhood against narratives of erasure and marginalization, symbolizing self-empowerment and the reclaiming of space and voice in the face of adversity.

Q: What does the imagery of “maps” signify in the poem? A: In the poem, “maps” symbolize the arbitrary and often violent ways in which borders are imposed, dividing people and cultures. They represent the external forces that shape personal and collective identities, often neglecting the human cost of such divisions.

If They Should Come for Us Study Guide

Exercise: Identify and list all the poetic devices used in the following verse from “If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar:

“my country is made up of two thin lines
of red running like a heartbeat, across my hand
mangoes, bright as mother’s laughter,
dark green saffron, on hot white rice.”

Instructions: Read the verse carefully. Note any poetic devices you find, such as imagery, metaphor, symbolism, and any others. Write them down along with a brief explanation of how each device contributes to the overall impact of the verse.


  1. Imagery: Descriptions like “two thin lines of red running like a heartbeat, across my hand” and “dark green saffron, on hot white rice” create vivid visual images that appeal to the senses. These images help convey the intensity and emotional depth of the poet’s connection to her homeland.
  2. Metaphor: The “two thin lines of red running like a heartbeat” metaphorically represent the borders drawn during partition, suggesting they are as vital and as painful as blood running through veins.
  3. Symbolism: The items “mangoes, bright as mother’s laughter” and “saffron, on hot white rice” symbolize the warmth and richness of the poet’s cultural heritage, contrasting with the painful history of division.
  4. Simile: “Bright as mother’s laughter” compares the vividness of mangoes to the sound of laughter, enhancing the emotional connection and warmth associated with memories of home.
  5. Color Imagery: The use of colors like red, dark green, and white not only paints a vivid picture but also conveys emotions; red as passion or pain, green as freshness or growth, and white as peace or simplicity.