Jamila Osman

Jamila Osman is a Portland-based Somali writer and educator currently working on a memoir.

Original Sin

God gutted Adam,
hauling Hawa from between
his ribs. The first woman coaxed
from the bone of man.

The apple rusting the clay
of their throats. This world,
aftermath of their desire.

To some, Hawa is to blame
for what has been lost.
Adam blameless as all boys will be.

On the Day of Judgement
the body will testify against its tenant—
the tongue made to account for
the many languages of its lies.

The eyes will confess every
forbidden glance at salt mired
cities they could not save,

the green thumb apologetic
for every rooted thing it culled
from the earth in envy.

In Islam there is no original sin:
each person guilty only for what
is lost at their hands.

Before the fall, God taught
Adam the Names of Things.
Words scrolled in the grove
of his mouth, which of them
did he leave behind?

Every word Hawa spoke,
one he remembered.
Who among us does not suffer
from what Adam forgot?

Saying to each other only
half of what we hoped,
the message mangled,

what we say barely grazing
the surface of what we mean.

A Girl is a Sovereign State

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open – Muriel Rukeyser

We learned English faster than our parents, their tongues
too old to take a new shape. Our tongues still coated in milk,
this meant we didn’t pray like they did, and God didn’t answer
when we called. English teachers tskedtskedtsked when our words
lost letters: when ending became endin became the end. English
was a world we rebuilt with our small hands. I was a girl, small
and dark skinned. Nothing belonged to me except what came
out of this mouth of mine. When my cousin put his [          ] in my
[          ] or when my uncle [          ]ed me in the living room of my home
and the strange man grabbed my [          ] last summer on the train
I wanted to say stop but didn’t know what language to say it in.
In Somalia we speak Somali, in America we speak English, or sometimes
we speak nothing at all. All the women I know speak in whispers. When
I try and tell some stories language turns to iron, heavy and rusting  
in the back of my throat. I bite my tongue and taste blood. Silence
was my first language. I am fluent in its cadences. I know the way quiet
is a celebration, the way it can pour out of a mouth like a rush
of water in a season of drought.


In folklore the women are wild and dangerous, wicked and scheming.
Mothers don’t let their children out after dusk. Sky an inky river,
evil things come up for air.

Shadows flit between trees, noises cannot be traced to their source.        
The night a living thing that hisses and groans.       

An old woman standing at the side of the road will ask for directions,      
and steal a poor boy’s kidneys.

An ugly witch  under the moon’s milk light is beautiful.
She will lure an unsuspecting man to his death with the promise of love.

In the stories men tell about us we are unforgivable,         
all sharp teeth and round apple mouths

As children they told us not to be afraid of the dark            
We never were. Enough bad things happened during the day,                   
not even the sun could erode the stench of our many fingered fears

We grew up watching our fathers talk over our mothers
our girl voices             reedy   unsure             evaporating in the light.
Fluent in our mothers’ peculiar alchemy, each time we died we came back to life.          

Stepping out of our corpses and into new skins.      
Wet and pink, gasping for breath and memory

In every house there is a daughter thrumming with desire,
her rage mistaken for hunger.