Ode to Sudanese-Americans

Safia Elhillo

basma & rudy were first each holding
a mirror in her arms where i could see
my face as their faces & we pierced

our noses & wore gamar boba
in our ears & everyone at the party
thought them hoop earrings & in the new york years

i crowd smoky bars alongside ladin
& shadin & majid & linda & nedal
atheel & amir & elkhair & mo & mohammed & mo

& we are forever removing our shoes in each other’s
apartments ashing cigarettes
into the incense burner making tea

with the good dried mint our mothers taught us
to keep in the freezer next to the chili
powder from home making songs & dinner

& jokes in our parents’ accents & i am funniest
when i have two languages to cocktail
when i can say remember & everyone was there

the rented room at the middle school on sundays
where our parents volunteered to teach us arabic
to watch us bleat alef baa taa thaa & text

our american boyfriends that we were bored
& at restaurants everyone asks if we are related
& we say yes we do not date because we are probably

cousins we throw rent parties & project the video
where albabil sing gitar alshoug & i am not
the only one crying not the only one made & remade

by longing the mutation that arabic makes of my english
metallic noises the english makes in my arabic
we ululate at each other’s weddings we ululate at the club

& sarah & hana make the mulah vegan & in english safia
spells her name like mine but pronounces it
like purified sews a patch of garmasees

to the back of my denim jacket we wash our underwear
in the sink & make group texts on whatsapp
we go home & take pictures of the pyramids

we go home & take pictures of the nile we move
to other cities & feel doubly diasporic
& your cousin’s coworker’s little sister emails me

a list of bigalas in oakland brings me crates
of canned fava beans from her own parents’
basement & i say sudanese-american & mean also

british sudanese & canadian & australian & raised
in the gulf azza & yousra & amani & yassmin
& it’s true that my people are everywhere

the uncles driving taxis at the end of our nights
the pharmacist who fills my prescription
who is named for the mole denoting beauty

adorning her left cheek guardian spirits of my every
hookah bar of my every untagged photograph
of crop tops & short shorts & pierced cartilage & tattoos

of henna & headscarves & undercuts & shaved heads
my tapestries embroidered with hundreds
of little mirrors glinting like sequins in the changing light

Last updated September 27, 2022