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


Ode to Sudanese-Americans

basma & rudy were first         each holding
            a mirror in her arms    where i could see
my face as their faces             & we pierced

our noses & wore gamar boba
            in our ears & everyone at the party
thought them hoop earrings   & in the new york years

i crowd smoky bars alongside ladin
            & shadin & majid & linda & nedal   
atheel & amir & elkhair     & mo & mohammed & mo

& we are forever removing our shoes in each other’s
            apartments     ashing cigarettes
into the incense burner           making tea

with the good dried mint our mothers taught us
            to keep in the freezer              next to the chili
powder from home     making songs & dinner

& jokes in our parents’ accents     & i am funniest
            when i have two languages to cocktail            
when i can say remember & everyone was there             

the rented room at the middle school on sundays
            where our parents volunteered to teach us arabic 
to watch us bleat         alef baa taa thaa        & text

our american boyfriends that we were bored               
            & at restaurants everyone asks if we are related
& we say yes  we do not date because we are probably

cousins            we throw rent parties & project the video
            where albabil sing gitar alshoug & i am not
the only one crying     not the only one made & remade

by longing       the mutation that arabic makes of my english     
            metallic noises the english makes in my arabic 
we ululate at each other’s weddings   we ululate at the club          

& sarah & hana make the mulah vegan          & in english safia
            spells her name like mine but pronounces it
like purified    sews a patch of garmasees

to the back of my denim jacket          we wash our underwear
            in the sink & make group texts on whatsapp        
we go home & take pictures of the pyramids              

we go home & take pictures of the nile          we move
            to other cities & feel doubly diasporic            
& your cousin’s coworker’s little sister emails me

a list of bigalas in oakland      brings me crates
            of canned fava beans from her own parents’
basement         & i say sudanese-american & mean also

british sudanese          & canadian & australian & raised
            in the gulf        azza & yousra & amani & yassmin 
& it’s true that my people are everywhere    

the uncles driving taxis at the end of our nights               
            the pharmacist who fills my prescription
who is named for the mole denoting beauty  

adorning her left cheek           guardian spirits of my every
            hookah bar        of my every untagged photograph     
of crop tops & short shorts    & pierced cartilage & tattoos

of henna & headscarves & undercuts & shaved heads
            my tapestries               embroidered with hundreds
of little mirrors            glinting like sequins in the changing light

Credit


Copyright © 2021 by Safia Elhillo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 7, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem


“I wanted to make an offering to my communities, to the vibrant diasporic communities that raised me and named me and taught me. I was newly relocated to California when I wrote this poem, and realized how much I’d taken this proximity to my community for granted in D.C. and in New York. I miss them, my friends, my friendcousins, my hundred siblings, so I made them this poem in hopes that it will make them laugh a little, and let them know that I am thinking of them.”
Safia Elhillo

Author


Safia Elhillo

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

Date Published: 2021-01-07

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/ode-sudanese-americans