Leila Chatti

Because it's June and there's nothing to do,we go to the strip mall at the edge of town.Someone's mother drives us; it isn't mine.These girls, they've got hair blaring redas a siren, no curfews, boyfriends and rumorsof going all the way. I'm fourteen and buttoned upin a blouse, bespectacled, a little shy,but last summer I tried to die,which makes me interesting.We loiter in the moist heat of the parking lot, callinglewd things to strangers across the relucent seaof asphalt, laughing with our whole mouths.Every part of us gleams: our licked fingers stickyfrom free Krispy Kremes, our lipsglossed cheap cherry. We're not that beautifulbut we're young, which to men, we're old enoughto know, is close. We stare them down,perched on the curb. We bare our thighslike secrets that have hurt us.Sitting there, impatient, one girl might kisssuddenly another, giggling, shadows mergingon the pitted sidewalk, eyes open to seeif they're seen. And at the very least,there's me, ever the apprenticein tenderness and nerve. When a man eventually,inevitably, approaches, we riseas birds do, all at once, flushedand shrieking until we regroup out of reach, our bodiesheaving against each other as if we have narrowly escapeda fate we know to fear but can't name. Thenwe do it again, to be sure.When the sun swells before the sky's mantlinglike a rosy bubble, we wandersnapping Hubba Bubba as the streetlights popon above us, proffer wishesand gossip like they're makeshift stars.We wait for someoneto wonder where we are, find ourselveswaiting long into the dark. I think we like this partbest, the night falling over our shoulderslike a borrowed sweatshirt, still warm,the blonde grasses whispering as we circle and circlethe unclaimed lot—knowing that we could be forgottenbut are not. And if we listen hard, before someone comesfor us, some nights our names are calledbetween guitar riffs on the classic rock stationblaring from rusted cars and the barpatio across the street—songs we know by heart, songsour fathers once sang to our mothersbefore they were oursor anyone's, ballads that made thembelieve it was possible they could, a lifetime, love, beloved, desperately, like that. 

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Color headshot of Leila Chatti, author of today's poem

Leila Chatti was born in 1990 in Oakland, California. A Tunisian-American dual citizen, she has lived in the United States, Tunisia, and Southern France. She is the author of the debut full-length collection Deluge (Copper Canyon Press, 2020), winner of the 2021 Levis Reading Prize, the 2021 Luschei Prize for African Poetry, and longlisted for the 2021 PEN Open Book Award, and the chapbooks The Mothers (Slapering Hol Press), Ebb (New-Generation African Poets) and Tunsiya/Amrikiya, the 2017 Editors’ Selection from Bull City Press. She holds a B.A. from the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University and an M.F.A. from North Carolina State University, where she was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize. She is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, and fellowships and scholarships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Tin House Writers’ Workshop, The Frost Place Conference on Poetry, the Key West Literary Seminars, Dickinson House, and Cleveland State University, where she was the inaugural Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in Writing and Publishing.

In The Mothers, a collaborative chapbook, poets Dorianne Laux and Leila Chatti explore matrilineage, motherhood, and aging. Includes a conversation between the poets on creativity and friendship.

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