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


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

another promise—

his wife and last child digging

in the garden. Our likenesses,

figurines, forever

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

I love.

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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