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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 Aris Theotokatos.

Safia Elhillo is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), which received the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and a 2018 Arab American Book Award, and Girls That Never Die (One World/Random House, 2021), and a novel in verse forthcoming in 2021 from Make Me A World/Random House.

She holds an MFA from The New School, a Cave Canem Fellowship, and a 2018 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. In addition to appearing widely in journals and anthologies, her work has been translated into several languages and commissioned by Under Armour and the Bavarian State Ballet. With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019). She was listed in Forbes Africa’s 2018 “30 Under 30” and is a 2019-2021 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Elhillo was invited as a Featured Poet for Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness (March 26-28, 2020) in Washington, DC which was cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Split This Rock began a virtual poetry reading series in May 2020 which included a reading by Safia Elhillo & Eve L. Ewing on May 7, 2020.

Other poems by this author