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


The mothers became targets.
Hanging on clotheslines, bibs
of the barely fed.
Children, countries born
split in two—firstborns
whose first steps aborted
their sisters, brothers, the fresh bread
of their love language,
children the English
tearing sphincters in two.
The mothers came by boat,
with wings, forgetting

their own mothers’ uteruses, singing
praises to Allah, they came over and over again
until it could not matter that so-and-so had died,
we were the nicknames escaping
their bellies, the translation between
stay and never arrived.
Husbands, uncles, we were
wives, illnesses, pawpaw seeds,
only things that could save them,
sickle cells that knew better
than to touch. Visible
only in their dialect, they spoke to cousins,
wired money, forgave ancestors
we couldn’t trust.

They stopped speaking to us
in our birth language until we became new
dictionaries, became the consonants
of the Constitution they studied,
our first words forgotten
artifacts in our home
countries. They were the ones
whose fathers had died
in the milt of language,
without daughters.
In America, we were memories
without accents or consensus,
lambs that couldn’t be traded
for milk, meal, or honey,

the fact of our bodies
in America their new Quran.
And, oh, how they moaned,
how they starved, sucking their teeth
between King’s English, yelling for us
to stop playing immigrant and go
get naturalized.

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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