The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Un-American by Hafizah Geter

The poet Hafizah Geter (Nigeria/USA), New York, New York, February 7, 2020. Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan


Mouthing amendments, our mother studied

the Constitution. Her whisper

not English, not her

Hausa tongue,

but something lower—

a car revving its engine.

Our mother memorized presidents, capital cities,

adopted habits like moving

her green card from one closet to another,

kept a manila folder for every year of her life.

In the kitchen she turned Cream

of Wheat into tuwo shinkafa,

cooked kuka until our Catholic school jumpers stunk

of crushed baobab leaves. She’d spend days in

her garden refusing to explain anything

but the marigolds.

In America, no one would say her name

correctly. I watched it rust

beneath the salt of so many tongues

like a pile of crushed Chevys.

At night, she prayed to Allah

for something from America that was more

than children. Come weekends,

we were counting

the naira in her underwear drawer.

From her calling cards, we learned

Naa goodee meant

thank you.


everything else.

This selection comes from the book, Un-American, available from Wesleyan University Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Ada Rivera.

Born in Zaria, Nigeria, Hafizah Geter is a Nigerian-American poet, writer, and editor. She received her BA in English and economics from Clemson University and an MFA in poetry from Columbia College Chicago. Hafizah’s poetry and prose have appeared in THE NEW YORKER, TIN HOUSE, BOSTON REVIEW, LONGREADS, AND MCSWEENEY’S INDELIBLE IN THE HIPPOCAMPUS, among others.

An editor for Little A and TOPPLE Books from Amazon Publishing, Hafizah serves on the planning committee for the Brooklyn Book Festival and lives in Brooklyn, New York where she is working on a novel about coming to America and a full-length nonfiction project about the intersection of anti-blackness, climate change, language, borders, and the aftermath of American slavery in daily life.



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