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About this poet

Safia Elhillo is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets.Elhillo is the recipient of the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation, and SPACE on Ryder Farm. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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

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

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

Safia Elhillo

Safia Elhillo

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

by this poet

poem

in the divorce i separate to two piles                 books: english      love songs: arabic
my angers   my schooling    my long repeating name       english    english     arabic

i am someone’s daughter but i am

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