Yemen Is (2018 Contest Winner)

 
 
a decayed tooth / a collapsed plane / wooden chopsticks splinter-
cracked down the middle / the father who kisses his kid goodnight
 
and never returns /a trembling finger in the crook
of a trigger / a brittle border, invaders packing
 
the streets like when British colonizers came, baba says,
reinventing us. Yemen in faded, homespun photos and Ratha’s kids
 
have been hungry, the market overrun, Abdul beaten
and captured from his car. Yemen snicked my father’s heart –
 
the hole gushes because there are no more green fields
and citrus trees, now it’s nothing and I’m from nowhere.

 
Yemen of heavy mocha and towering date palms, of panthers
and tobacco shrubs. A Yemen of my great-aunts awake at sunrise
 
squatting around the outside oven, molding dough into fresh bread,
scattering chicken bones to black vultures, stray cats,
 
the musk of woodsmoke and something growing. Yemen halved
at its center and I with my head in my grandmother’s hands
 
as she braids my hair. I get no daily aid emails or fundraiser invites
for Yemen. Nowhere on the news or in the thoughts of my friends
 
is Yemen spared a moment. I hear stories secondhand: from an uncle
just returned, late in his arrival when the airport gets infiltrated,
 
from a static phone call in my mom’s kitchen, sobbing
on the other end. I sit on our front porch, safe from seeing
 
their gaunt faces, far enough away from their sad smell
as they wait, tired and drought-tongued, begging
 
for a small deliverance, for clean water,
a Godly messenger, shade to rest in.
 
 
 

Threa Almontaser is an Arab-American writer from New York City. She is a MFA candidate in creative writing at North Carolina State University and the recipient of scholarships from Tin House, Winter Tangerine, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and others. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets, she is winner of the 2017 Unsilenced Grant for Muslim American Women Writers as well as the 9th annual Nazim Hikmet poetry competition. Her work is published in Baltimore Review, Track//Four, Kakalak, Gravel, Day One, and elsewhere. She currently teaches English to immigrants and refugees in Raleigh.