Portrait of This Country

Threa Almontaser

Kiss someone. God will rat
                you out. He’ll deliver a dream
                                to your mom at midnight where she learns

                                                                                                                            what you’re up to, awakened
                                                                                                            with prophetic visions of your sins.

She will bust your door in a rain
                of spark spittle, fireballs.
                                This would never have happened if we hadn’t

                                                                                                                            come to this unholy country.
                                                                                                            This country blamed for every failure,

clash for freedom. But new land
                doesn’t change what has been set.
                                Nasibak yaseebak. Your book is already written,

                                                                                                                thread-thin soul chosen especially for you.
                                                                                                                STAY ALERT: on campus, picture

your spinal cord shot, scattered
                barbells, eyelids blood scruffed,
                                smelling like jitters, singed sulphur.

                                                                                                                            You speed walk grasping
                                                                                                            a bread-knife some nights. Glance behind

buildings every six seconds, hijab
                a lighthouse, fulgent white flash.
                                Pretend to read signs, tie your shoe in case

                                                                                                                            you spot the dull heat in another
                                                                                                            man’s hand. You are sweat-itchy, drunk

on fright, always ready to rabbit-kick
                away from anywhere. Then a cousin,
                                sharp-slick whiz, hexing smile. Killed

                                                                                                                            at nineteen, a hit-and-run on his own
                                                                                                            front yard. One more mother stands quiet

by a window, too afraid to move.
                Each fajr, she turns the radio dial
                                as if searching for a certain song—

                                                                                                                            a medium scanning for the dead.
                                                                                                            Gnawed ripe, breath-starved, throbbing

with albatross: they are rough husks
                hauling their bellies through crowds
                                at groceries, ATM lines, waiting to become

                                                                                                                            another dark absence, bleeding
                                                                                                            hub. All of them still plagued by the uncle

in Yemen who never made it back
                from the market, ten years missing.
                                A neighbor’s kid singing his last tune

                                                                                                                            on the school bus. Her daughter
                                                                                                            kidnapped by the night. Yet all still agree,

This would never have happened, O
                this country ruined            our children

                                their ruin                is our ruin                this country

                                                                                            is our children

                                this ruin

                                                                    is our country

                                                    is this

                                                                                our ruin

is this

                                                                    our children

                is this

                                                                            our country

                                                                                                               is this

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Threa Almontaser is the author of the poetry collection, The Wild Fox of Yemen (Graywolf Press) selected by Harryette Mullen for the 2020 Walt Whitman Award from The Academy of American Poets. She is the recipient of awards from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulbright program, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA and TESOL certification from North Carolina State University. https://www.threawrites.com/

Winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, selected by Harryette Mullen

“The spirit of Whitman lives in these poems that sing and celebrate a vibrant, rebellious body with all its physical and spiritual entanglements. Formally and linguistically diverse, these bold, defiant declarations of ‘reckless’ embodiment acknowledge the self’s nesting identities, proclaiming the individual's intricate relations to others, the one in the many and the many in the one. Ultimately, they ask how to belong to others without losing oneself, how to be faithful to oneself without forsaking others. Exuberant dialogues incorporate communities of known and unknown interlocutors along with translations of the Yemeni poet Abdullah Al-Baradouni.”
—Harryette Mullen, judge’s statement for the Walt Whitman Award

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