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.
They said, ‘The heavens wept that night, the night that I was born.
‘Dogs barked, eunuchs danced heralding the new arrival,’ I was told.
‘You looked like a tadpole,’ my father would often say narrating the
events of that night, amidst chuckles. I do not know if I remember
the welcome in my honor or if it is just an oft-repeated story that’s
created a memory.
A labyrinth of dark corridors, red tiled roofs, long,
coconut trees touching the sky, swaying like ghosts in the dark
and me standing outside the bathroom door, waiting for grandma
to emerge, after her evening shower. Grandma, my sanctuary
in that big house when mom left, to join dad, in a far away land.
Red woolen jacket, matching gloves and warm boots.
The sound of Allah-u-Akbar coming from the mosque
on my way to school. And a siren goes off , announcing war.
‘Baghdad has bombed Tehran,’ blaring on the radio. All immigrants
are returning home. And I am back on the flight to where I came from.
The long corridors have gone and the tiled roof as well. There is
a heap of red mud and fallen walls. The floods brought it all down.
Grandma’s standing outside waiting for me. I’m happy she’s there.
But I want to go back. I do not want to be here.
Grandma’s says she wants to see her great-grandchildren.
There’s something she wants to give them. She is asking
me to return. ‘I cannot stay long,’ I promise her.
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