Hiwot Adilow

Hiwot Adilow is an Ethiopian-American poet and singer from Philadelphia. Born in 1995, she is a member of the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her poetry appears or is forthcoming in Nepantla, Winter Tangerine, Vinyl Poetry and Prose, and elsewhere and has been anthologized in The BreakBeats Poets Vol 2.0: Black Girl Magic (Haymarket Books, 2018). Hiwot is author of the chapbook In The House of My Father (Two Sylvias Press, 2018).

The judges had this to say about Hiwot’s poetry:
Hiwot Adilow’s transgressive poems return to the body as a site for meaning, memory, and reckoning.  She has discovered that poetry’s contract with the senses makes it the most suitable vehicle for poems that will speak of the ways in which a woman’s body has to be written with care, boldness and discipline. These are poems of skill, vulnerability and daring, and which show, ultimately, a delight in language.

The Night My Father Was Robbed

I ran downstairs with a hammer & turned on every light.
I said, I hate this country & spat on the ground where I was born.
It isn’t this country the Black cop said, writing down the facts
of theft. Back then, I didn’t know History’s names. I couldn’t
drop knowledge bombs. I didn’t know Osage burned
around the corner where I was bred & breastfed.
Everybody with the last name Africa was bombed
by the first Black mayor. I didn’t know Goode
or Rizzo or my own father’s youth, soaked in red & wringing.
The Amharic word for terror rhymes the English “shiver.”
Fear evokes movement, even if it’s just a solitary tremble,
quiet shifts back & forth. I look behind me
& name Ethiopia the promised land.
I relay its myths, nod along to dead prophecies.
I read half a halfverse about Rastas & thought,
if someone calls a country heaven it must be so.
Who first called the country I was born in paradise?
Who first referred to America as a dreamscape?
Who first felt lucky to be here, galloping over vast blood?
I trot across the bones of people stolen & people stolen from.
Every heaven kills its citizens when they don’t sing.
Alarms cross at the forearms & scream.
My mouth tears meat from bone,
gleams wet over flesh & kisses, greedy.
My lips are quiet. They don’t cry out.
My father asks what I have there,
in his country. His question is
an answer in itself. A wound heals off-hinge.
I pour all my money into the ocean to sit.
Gallons of red trundle under earth & I don’t move.


one night’s pleasure is a lifetime’s pain

I put my life at risk any time I breathe                 & a man is near & I tell him no
or I lean on trust & he mentions Love & I ignore the gunbutt glowing at the hilt

I decide               I want you too before your brother says            she needs
another drink  I had the myth divined to me what it means to be loose–

you’ve finished drilling into my hips my head my phone’s dead & you call
this dangerous it makes me swoon the after ficklefuck hush of a lazy afternoon

I won’t feel like nothing if you lend a truth–is your love theatre or threat?
it’s hard to deny my body its little       deaths if we’re making promises

let’s keep promises babe                           I want to wake up & fit in the world
& not have it gnaw–that isn’t a futile charge the little crook of earth

brown skin that makes you is a world                  that can’t deliver            a place
I can’t escape I trace you with my tongue & hunt for something to make me sing.


according to their names

father had three children in old age awaiting death he got one second he soil the third he gold and died the elders got together to discuss his written surprised because he told us not to talk man a crocodile licking drops very green very thin unharnessed with a free mouth wondered went on to a land which was barren a green fat land for us soothsayer we quarrel we promised this ploughing eat the meat at the beginning I ate all the bones you never know when God comes never know when we die nobody knows how I took first if He takes my soul run there and toil make our life’s will God’s will father got no house my father and I have the most deprived peace the past–a world


Lover, You Should’ve Come Over

I’m in the dimlit cold of my room, too young to keep good love from going
wrong. Always a girlfriend, yesterday. Tucked in the palace of my slumbering
joys, under frost. My solitude becomes a torch. My best love was a daughter
of swampy bloom, mudpuckered flowers, haunted families, flood stains.
The mystery white boy croons forget her and the blueswoman swarms
to the bottom of my cup of tea, right into the honey’s gunk, straight
into a husband’s arms. I reside in a palace full of unseamed gowns.
I’ll do this ‘til death, to redeem my health. No princes, no kisses,
bare-shouldered as the dust collects. Miss Havisham in the flesh.
I’ll practice love’s traditions by myself: feed my worn body,
oil my skin, kiss my shoulder for a kingdom of my own.


and when i couldn’t leave i lied,

i’m okay i’m fine i promise it’s just a little bruise from a clumsy bump i ran into a door i fell i jumped in front of his hand it was my fault i did it to myself i looked him in the eye and he got scared of me i’m fine there’s nothing wrong i’m safe and sound you hear him breathing behind me that means he’s not mad what do you mean i sound sad this is just the tempo fresh love takes i’m a little restless that’s the only reason i run some nights i knock on your door because i miss you not cause i’m scared who told you that who said i was barefoot in the black night fleeing like a wench you know that’s just gossip i’d tell you if anything went wrong if there was anything to flinch about i’d flinch bitch i’m just cold that’s the only reason i’m jumping you know we had to turn the heat off just to save a lil somethin to eat it’s all money problems and that’s what everyone here is worried about not just me why you so concerned about my man and me when you been in the house all weekend tellin me you fine you haven’t moved in days callin me sick at least i have somebody to lay by me someone to say sorry when it hurts too much you just achin on your own judgin me i told you nothin’s wrong that’s just love and besides you don’t know nothin bout that been by yourself your whole damn life wouldn’t know the difference between a hickey and a hit mark i didn’t mean to get mean with you it’s just my feelings hurt i can’t stand you lookin at me with those damp and wondersome eyes look like you been crying what you so sad about not like anybody hit you


and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again

I can ice my own eye and fly I learned it
from my mother her late night going
under one July’s drizzle through osmosis
and a shared twin bed I learned the body’s
rattle after ravage after rape she left and
I was left the only lady of the house no other
neck but mine to adorn with his hands no
other back to back against the wall but me


Guddu’s girl

After Maaza Mengiste

daddy   the command came out your mouth    you told them
to pick me up   to pull me out the revolution    against you
of course they tore me shred by shred                I said your name
every night          I called on you                              father I thought
you could be some good              even if it was your men
who bit my nipples with a car jump      who seared my skin
who ripped the very flesh of your flesh from my bones


Wives & Lovers

We may very well succumb to our cowardice.
Likely, we’ll become the women our mothers
dreamt up when we bit their nipples & pulled
for what would make us full.

Childless, I wonder–with a man’s knuckles
spannin my lap–about a life spent like this,
forever with his tenor & bass callin me to sing.
The work of sugar always put on me.

I think of another honey-lipped woman croonin’
to her man, his skin the color of praline & semi-sweet.
What’s tender in the notes, soft & thrummin, comes from me.
Rises near her trillin tongue. Saves the bite for what we barely knew.

The bite is always what we won’t know, what a quiet life
comes up with. A hit against our teeth.



I’ma always honor ya name sure you’re a bad man dad that’s facts from out your own mouth how I saw it pan out as a former first born with my own four eyes I sat back and wished for your end when friends said they didn’t have a man who lived with them who stood and cooked in the kitchen or whipped them when they didn’t do good or do enough what I wanted was for love to mean more than a kicked down bedroom door or a sore bottom those small bruisings you’ve forgotten are not thicker than water I will always choose the martyr over you your real first born daughter prolly loves with all her heart I love fickly yelling sickly like you taught remember when you used to walk with me on your shoulders remember when you choked–or back then when you’d fallen and thought it was something rotten caught in your plate let’s face it the brain’s glitch catches up to you today and I pray you stay long enough to know me as your glory I’m still your first besides The Lord you’re my only


Beneath the Lion’s Gaze

After Maaza Mengiste

Each dawn, Doctor Hailu hears the young girl calling for her father, like a ghost.
Hailu makes the sign of The Cross along her battered body, places cyanide on her tongue.
This mercy costs his knuckles their sockets. His organs lose a liter of blood, each.

Hailu wakes with a long boot pressed against his mouth. His gums swell. His teeth
don’t shatter, they yawn, then dive deep into his throat. He only says what he knows,
spills the insufficient truth, again and again. Every vein in his body is sore and blinking.
The Major kicks him between each rib and his body hums—

That’s the only way some people grieve,
the only way some people show Love.