Skip to Content

origin stories (reprise)

By Safia Elhillo

i was born in the winter in 1990 in a country not my own
i was born with my father’s eyes maybe i stole them he
doesn’t look like that      anymore                   i was born
in seven countries          i was born carved up by borders
i was born with a graveyard of languages for teeth    i was
born to be a darkness in an american boy’s bed    or     i
was born with many names         to fill the quiet       i forget
which one is mine         i forget                what is silence     &
what     is a language i cannot speak     i was born
crookedhearted              born ticking       born on the
subway platform at 103rd st       fainting                blood sliding
around thin as water in my body            i was born
to the woman who caught me       floating into the train       & to
every pair of hands keeping me from dying           my mother’s
cool fingers snaking my hair into braids       my grandmother’s
thick knuckles collecting my feet in her lap            & my own
cupped for rainwater     raising every day to my own mouth
to drink

Added: Friday, August 19, 2016  /  Used with permission.
Safia Elhillo
Photo by Dexter R. Jones.

Safia Elhillo’s first full-length collection, The January Children, is forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press in 2017. Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, a Cave Canem fellow and poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly: a journal of black expression, she received an MFA in poetry at the New School. Safia is a Pushcart Prize nominee, co-winner of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize, and winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. In addition to appearing in several journals and anthologies including The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, her work has been translated into Arabic and Greek. Safia has served as a Split This Rock Teaching Artist.

Other poems by this author