For My Friends, in Reply to a Question
I don’t know if I’ll ever go home again. I don’t know who I’ve seen for the last time.
FOR MY FRIENDS, IN REPLY TO A QUESTION
but I go through the motions. I wake up
to the alarm’s howl, even when the word
in my body is no. I dress in livid colors.
I blacken the hairs of each eyebrow. I bake
& braise & pickle. I write & read & lose
hours to the blur of the television. I sit
for hours in the bath, my skin puckering.
I don’t know if I’ll ever go home again.
I don’t know who I’ve seen for the last time.
The Arabic comes back to me in streaks
of paint, verb forms & vocabularies
I may never again have occasion to use.
My days smudge into one another & it’s not
that I am afraid. It’s as if I am watching it
all happen below, & I am somewhere above
the room, wondering if the rice is burning.
I am somewhere above the room, watching
my new aches, watching the news as if
I am reading it in a novel. I look up
the names of people I knew in childhood,
learn their new & angular faces, their
faraway lives. My grandfather pixelates
into a smile & I work my creaking muscles
to replicate it, I do not ask if we will ever
meet again, I do not ask him to read to me,
or for anything that will make me long.
I dull it with sugar & oil, with cooking shows,
with sleep. I sleep twelve hours each night
& in my dreams I am fleeing a war, in my dreams
I am touching the faces of my friends, we are
each one of us touching, & even in the dream
we are afraid.
Safia Elhillo is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), which received the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and an Arab American Book Award, Girls That Never Die (One World/Random House, 2021), and the novel in verse Home Is Not A Country, forthcoming in 2021 from Make Me A World/Random House. With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019). Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, she is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.
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