Since 1996 Volume XXIV

                      Mohja Kahf

Photo Credit: Wendi La Fey  https://www.wendilafey.com

Mohja Kahf, a professor at the University of Arkansas since 1995, competed at the National Poetry Slam in 1999, and her delivery has never been the same. Her first poetry book, E-mails from Scheherazad, was a finalist for the Paterson Prize. Hagar Poems, her second book of poetry, is a feminist reimagining of figures from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scriptures. Kahf’s essay in River Teeth about the difficult birth of her child, “The Caul of Inshallah,” won a Pushcart. The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, her novel about a Syrian girl growing up in Indiana, was chosen for the 2017 One Book Project by Indiana University East, “but where’s my movie offer?” she asks. 

Yard Work

This bed of leaves
begs to be crackled

Quick, the trees 
are looking the other way—

Pull out your rake
Make mulch of me

—from Naked Toast, forthcoming book as Press 53 Tom Lombardo Award for Poetry, April 2020.

Isaac Wakes Up to Ismaïl and Hagar Terrorizing the House

It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent.
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

This crazy black woman banging on our door,
and her glowering bearded brown son behind her, scare me.
They don’t belong here. Can’t they see
they are disturbing my homeland security?

The first time these strangers surfaced,
Mama fainted at the screen door
and my father sat me down:
“Son, there’s a trifling thing we haven’t told you.
There was no room for it in our curriculum.
…so you see, this woman was—just a blip in our story.
No pledges were made that needed keeping.
What they say’s not true; do not believe it.
They are crafty, they are taught from birth to lie.
We are still the decent folk you know.
It’s all them; they are incapable of modern life.
The other one, well, yes, he is your brother,
technically—but estranged. We deny 
any living family tie.”

“But—but why do they hate us?”
I almost cried, eyes big and shining.
A hole gaped beneath me, full of monsters.
Mama squeezed my hand. “Don’t worry.
You don’t ever have to know them.
We have made this lovely shell for you,
called ‘our quality of life.’
This must go on unbroken.
Our barges full of garbage must stay free
to plow their stately courses on the sea.
Do not let doubts across the border.
Not a single trip to Burger Land 
will we compromise.”

Still. Sometimes I hear their keening
under the hum of our fridge or my tv.
“Lies, all lies,” I tell myself,
but I don’t know if the noises
getting louder are outside the house
or inside my head, 
a terroristic truth destroying me.  

—from Hagar Poems, University of Arkansas Press, 2016


To My Queenly Daughters 

My little daughters, walk beside me
One day we will walk shoulder to shoulder,
three queens, gracious and savage, 
coming from the World’s Beginning,
neither of the East nor of the West, we,
but luminous. So tune your antennae.

And guard your secrets, 
O my little daughters who will one day be queens
And open your treasure chests. Know what you have,
pearls and scorpions. I am arming you 
with talismans, the talon of the falcon I was. 
“Because I love you” is a good answer
to nearly everything you will ask me, 
so remember it when I am gone. 

Hold my hands, my daughters. And we will burn grandly,
like oil lamps in the niches of the Grand Mosque
And we will signal to the Pleiades
and the outer planets, our friends and allies
full of grace and savagery 
It is time, come now, it is time. 

—published in E-mails from Scheherazad, University Press of Florida, 2003 


Breastgiving, a Summer Poem 
(or, When Does That Damn School Start Again?)

My children are ferrets, feral
creatures, ermines sleek, wriggling into my sides,
carnivorous, boring into my flesh
My children gnaw the meat from the bone of me
They pick my mind clean of thought
They polish off my eye sockets like hard candy and want more

Go away into the woods my children,
into the last woods left, into daycare and summer camp
Leave me free at last, guilt-free, free to think 
one free thought clear through, and saying fuck
any man who-so-be-he or woman who proclaims 
motherhood like a pasteboard crown

Go my children and suck the lifeblood
out of someone else. This world contains diverse
enriching other bodies to exhaust
For God’s sake, for Iblis’ sake, go,
my darling parasites, with your prattling 
questions like a series 
of needle pricks in my ankle

Do not make me proud
Do not make me mother’s day cards
with lumpy pink glued-on hearts and horrid verse
the quality of which I will be forced to lie about
Do not make me objects with clay,
butt-ugly, which I will be forced to keep forever*
The kiln-blast of my love for you should be enough

Go mine fine ermines and make yourselves proud,
although, if one day you read this,
fully grown, and instead of only hating me,
you hate me and get it and forgive me,
I will be a fucking proud mother

*Note to my children if you get hold of  this too young: Mommy is lying. 
I love the cards and the clay, okay? Shuttup, stop crying. It’s just a poem, goddammit. Oh, shit.


Holding for Fadwa Suleiman 

RIP Fadwa Suleiman (1970-2017)

Fadwa Suleiman kneels in the dirt of Syria
She plants her bare arms in it
Here, she says, from this ground
we will heal our country

Fadwa Suleiman shaves her head in Homs
to prove her vow to her brother
who must disown her for holding with protesters

but ragged fields know Fadwa
She sings in basement apartments 
Her kin in hiding and love are everywhere

Fadwa Suleiman grows from the mountain to the coast
her body eaten by cancer, by a country
that didn’t heed
Her offer still holds

Copyright © Mohja Kahf


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