Safia ElhilloRacism

for Charif S.

not black our grandmothers insist & point
to vague & arid swathes across the map
arabia’s tribes conveniently nomadic to place
wherever blood begins to show a touch

of dark or daughters do not fear as they
are told the hot turmeric of the sun
allow instead its fingers’ pull of color
to the surface of the body kept

cloistered for generations attempt
at manmade white with creams & veils & fire
to kill the curl hair oiled & brushed out thin
so of course i hear the song that names it

asmar asmarani & hear my own dark name
i shake out the dark froth of my hair


i shake out the dark froth of my hair
the man in the silver shop says sudan
really but you look so clean ya asmar
& in an emirate by the water

at a party my girls & i are scrubbed
& polished with our eyelids painted gold
& yes we gleam & yes all day we tugged
the sun into our copper mouths

hair swollen in the heat forest of
acacia trees impenetrable though
a man dressed all in white thobe bluing in the
clean cold air conditioning from his car

rolls down the window & caws to his friends
“?????? ???” the niggers are here


“?????? ???” the niggers are here
our mothers debark a copper child on
each hip american future bluing
each life to match its new passport

& now & here the option to name the
asmar something new to pretend the word
in our new language is no longer black
despite bilad al sudan land of the

blacks as if our arabic will pale us
or blur the target disguise us as some
other other some more desirable
dusk as if the bullets will hear our sons’

sorghum inflections & bend to find some
black that holds up against language & sea


black that holds up against language & sea
black the only name assigned my body
that ever felt like mine black my hunted
kin my hunted blood & black my only

country & asmar & asmarani
& black that does not wait until called
a nigger or wait to be asked who
taught me to speak an arab’s arabic

or offered a window to some vaguer
brown to opt out of black to cling to the
vague & arid swathes of map ready
to fictionalize my beginnings i

unfurl in my sun worship to the dark
markings of the alphabet that named me

Last updated September 27, 2022