Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Transport

sour heat of the taxicab                   my thighs stuck by sweat to the leather
in the aperture of the sunless hours                         i sit scarved in the quiet
that i think will protect me                    i’ve spent days inside & untouched
by human noise                            & i forget the lesson in the old hurts
that mark my kneaded body                   & sometimes i do not even register
the hands that steer the vehicle                       the man from which they protrude

until his eyes in the mirror hook the light     & i see his want thrusting
into the backseat                   a leer scraping like a fingernail along my skin
dumb prey shut in the cage with its wolf                    while his looking catalogs
my edible parts             gleaming in stripes by the streetlights & hushed
in brief sanctuary by the dark                    & the silence i’ve gathered will throb
when he asks is this where you live & i work to keep my face unchanged

& maybe sometime in the dimming past                       i was still unmarked
my girlhood body unoccupied by warning      its curiosity still free to extend
to a strange or recognized hand                       engineering an unfamiliar ache
before my shame became my native tongue        became the sovereign of my flesh
i had my milkteeth    smiled green as a seedling in photographs      in their silence
i was pure & cloistered      & i did not yet need to take inventory

for my body to feel like mine       the driver’s eyes displace me & leave behind a list
of ways i can be hurt            of all the places i am a door                 its use unaltered
by my yes or no     outside the streetlights change to a bridge’s trusses & i say nothing
the car points into a borough not my own                while i watch the distance swell
between my watching   & the slab of girl fastened to the backseat     useless little carcass
so faraway in her smallness    & already going missing   already bored by pain

& sometimes even those whose touch i choose      who mean me only tenderness
will with their smell or voice or a trick of the light      or the faintest touch of an index
finger    trip the latch that lets me out to the space      above my peeled & emptied rind
when i return i tell this to my lover       who braids himself to me & makes me new
who takes into his mouth my broken name       & in an exhale of smoke it emerges
weathered but complete & still mine             until i remake myself from stillness

& drape myself in the life of a different girl      rupture smoothed over like the noiseless
surface of a lake             & in the taxi i look out to the evening’s copper bruising
i give directions                   i push away his looking & feel my body reinflate
i dial my lover’s voice     the car points homeward & my old panic melts back into its archive
when he fills the backseat with sound                   & maybe i can be reborn
as a girl who does not go missing     a girl someone will look for    no longer the decorative husk

men make me with their want               the quiet shrinks & i come unstuck from the leather
i come unstuck from my hurts           pay my fare & debark the car untouched
my home protrudes like a lighthouse from the night        i settle the body      mine to register

Credit


Originally published in FUSION. Copyright © 2018 by Safia Elhillo. Used with the permission of the author.

Author


Safia Elhillo

Safia Elhillo is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017). 

Date Published: 2018-10-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/transport