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Hafizah Geter

Poetry

How to Bring Your Children to America

 

The mothers became targets.

Hanging on clotheslines, bibs

of the barely fed.

Children, countries born

split in two—firstborns

whose first steps aborted

their sisters, brothers, the fresh bread

of their love language,

children the English

tearing sphincters in two.

The mothers came by boat,

with wings, forgetting

their own mothers’ uteruses, singing

praises to Allah, they came over and over again

until it could not matter that so-and-so had died,

we were the nicknames escaping

their bellies, the translation between

stay and never arrived.

Husbands, uncles, we were

wives, illnesses, pawpaw seeds,

only things that could save them,

sickle cells that knew better

than to touch. Visible

only in their dialect, they spoke to cousins,

wired money, forgave ancestors

we couldn’t trust.

They stopped speaking to us

in our birth language until we became new

dictionaries, became the consonants

of the Constitution they studied,

our first words forgotten

artifacts in our home

countries. They were the ones

whose fathers had died

in the milt of language,

without daughters.

In America, we were memories

without accents or consensus,

lambs that couldn’t be traded

for milk, meal, or honey,

the fact of our bodies

in America their new Quran.

And, oh, how they moaned,

how they starved, sucking their teeth

between King’s English, yelling for us

to stop playing immigrant and go

get naturalized.

 


Testimony

for Sandra Bland, 1987–2015

After the miscarriage, she moved to Waller County
wearing the ghost of motherhood
and wanting to make old wounds foreign.
In my bedroom, I read aloud the list
of her contusions, watched an officer

drag her from her car over and over again.
As if the humiliations would never be done,
there were typos in her autopsy report.
The words: no signs of struggle.
I thought: her body is my body, is a church

set fire, is the toil that makes the land,
a jail cell, light as a paper bag,
the sound my father makes
when, after so many years, he says my mother’s name.
Twenty-eight,

they split her open where slaves grew
cotton at the banks of the Brazos and students
at Prairie View A&M can barely vote
and laid her bare—a coroner’s wishbone
carved in her chest.

In Waller County, they still segregate
their cemeteries, name
some murders suicide.
They fire their police chief,
vote him Sheriff.

 


The Leaving

 

A Nigerian proverb

that when you lose your bridge,

climb down the mountain.

Instead, my mother grabbed

the Atlantic. Enough for a path

to carry daughters.

Every mile of seabed leapt over

used to form statues

of her brothers

in her mind. On her back,

I slept a journey.

She whispered, leave

our language behind, afraid

of an old country

on my tongue.

In America,

feet never dried.

Half-breed turned hemlock.

My mother, my rope

through the sea, my vine.

I arrived, language’s orphan,

a two-citizen child, no country.

Wake, a dead woman’s

daughter, homesick with no home

to ill towards, listening

for what English does

to my blood.