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.