Arm's Lenght

Safia Elhillo

though too a child of fleeing people, my husband
has never held his name & body at arm’s length at an airport

we looked at maps, taking turns with the middle seat
summered in old cities, held hands at the airport

in that famous city of romance we folded in with the other
immigrants, spiced food & blue smoke, shisha a perfume in the air

portmanteau as a game we played in transit, the mischief found
in christopher. i left loving that old city, even when i was searched at the airport.

when we were first married he would dream of all the places we might live—
security arriving again, after i’d boarded, to remove me from the airplane

for a third search. my clothes scattered around the jet bridge,
shame swelling in my throat. it’s a joke by now, the muslim at the airport

—all the places we might live, healthcare & a metro, do we speak
the language? cost of renting an apartment, its proximity to an airport.

twice, already pregnant, my mother on a long-ago flight, turbulence
& nausea in return for passports for her children, our ease in every airport

while she stayed behind to be searched, headscarf & the wrong papers,
my brother & i american & killing time, eating fast food at the airport.

after that election, after each new video where we die, we consider
our ancestral work of leaving. board of destinations like a menu at the airport.

he has his heart set on it, that city, my husband, its long afternoon, sunset
two hours before midnight. & i can’t. it was one time, but still, the airport—

they hate muslims in that country, i eventually say. my exalted passport
just paper, ugly shade of blue. & everywhere in the world. the airport

the place where it is most plainly said, but not the only. so where is there
for us to go, for me & mine? name i cannot help, & cannot hide what it reports.

& now it feels so far away, that place, that portal. i surprise myself by longing—
the world, everyone, everything i love. kept from me on the other side of an airport

Last updated September 27, 2022