U N – AMERICAN
My mother transfers the last marigold
from a pot to a patch of earth
that she’s carefully bellied out
beneath her, the dirt cool as a penny,
her fingers tender with the bright
petals as she demonstrates how
what’s uprooted can return
to solid ground,
her colonial English helpless
against her native tongue’s prayers.
Allāhu Akbar, my mother says as casually
as she says my name.
The wind, warmer
than the water from her morning wudu,
continues its pilgrimage East,
a steady stream
of fireworks chasing it in the distance.
My mother looks at me all shine,
her dreams quietly
wild in her garden.
She says the rain can do
in Nigeria what no sun will ever
do here in South Carolina,
her shadow my only relief
from the Confederate heat.
High noon, work done,
my mother settles in on the front porch
where my father swallows
the landscape in his hands.
Leaning over his shoulder,
she watches him sketch
his wife and last child digging
in the garden. Our likenesses,
in a charcoal
amber. In his mind,
my father is always building
shelter, the spirits that haunt him
like mice in the walls:
oranges for Christmas,
a single pair of khakis
to last all year, his mother
on her knees
Murphy oiling a white woman’s Alabama
home. The heat licks the corners
of my father’s sketchbook to a curl.
He draws God’s shadow right
down to the horns.
In the garden, the bees burn
their tongues on sprouting
chili peppers, turning the honey mad.
Fireworks splash against my parents’
American Dream, a switch that turns
all their ghosts on.
Children prowl the streets
with sparklers in hand
impatient for the holiday to dusk.
I look for the ones like me and my sister
who, not born in this country,
can never be president.
My sister, upstairs, asleep
in the relief of this Independence.
Returned from college,
she’s still never shed the gait
of our barely remembered home country.
My longing could drive a car—
citizen I am
to our parents’ wounds.
My sister’s and my blood the scar
healed between them. Half of us
never owned. Half,
Southern-lynched. Strange fruit.
Watch as I pull the slave out
of me, how un-American,
to wear the names
of what they fled.
My grass-stained knees pledge allegiance
to a country that belongs to no one
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.