Our optional prompt for today is based on another poem of Elhillo’s, called “Origin Stories.” Like “To Make Use of Water,” this poem struggles to make sense of the distance between the poet’s beginnings, her point of origin, and her present self. Have you ever heard the phrase, “you can’t go home again?” This poem is about that.
Today, taking a leaf from Elhillo’s work, we’d like to challenge you to write a poem of origin. Where are you from? Not just geographically, but emotionally, physically, spiritually? Maybe you are from Vikings and the sea and diet coke and angry gulls in parking lots. Maybe you are from gentle hills and angry mothers and dust disappearing down an unpaved road. And having come from there, where are you now?
My origin poem for today. Writing this was a beautiful experience.
Of My Roots
Of My Roots
They said, ‘The heavens wept, the sea rose that night- the night
of my birth. ‘Dogs barked; eunuchs danced heralding your arrival’
my father told me; his voice trailing as he remembered the past.
‘You looked like a tadpole, our first born,’ he said, a twinkle in his eye.
I do not know if I remember the welcome in my honor or if it is the
oft repeated past that I hold on to as way to trace my roots.
A labyrinth of dark corridors, red tiled roofs, coconut trees reaching
the sky swaying like ghosts black, black outside
and me waiting inside in front of the creaky wooden bathroom
door for Amma to step out, after her evening shower. Grandma,
whom I called ‘Amma,’ my sanctuary when Mamma left me to
join Papa in a faraway land. I held on to Amma, so I did not
get lost in that sprawling house with each room bigger than the other
Amma was old. She would never find me If I lost myself. I had to be
safe until I reached Mamma.
Red woolen jacket, matching mittens and warm boots and muffler.
Hot chocolate milk me sitting on the kitchen counter sipping and
the sound of Allah-u-Akbar ringing in the new day. It is time for
school a siren goes off ‘Khomeini has taken over. The Shah
has been overthrown.’ There is fire everywhere Papa sounds
worried. ‘We must get out. Quick!’ Mamma throws things in the
suitcase. And I am back on the flight to where I came from.
The long corridors have gone, and the roof is a heap of tiles. ‘The floods
brought it all down,’ I hear them say Amma’s waiting for me. The
garden is a mound of red mud I see her smile as I alight from
the taxi. I am happy she is there, but I want to go back I do not want
to be here.
I am screaming into the receiver the children look on Mamma is no more.
Amma cannot hear very well she says she wants to see the children
there is something she wants to give them. She is asking me to return.
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