Momtaza Mehri is a poet and essayist. Her work has been featured in DAZED, Buzzfeed, Vogue, BBC Radio 4, Poetry Society of America, Mask Magazine and The Poetry Review. She is a Complete Works Fellow and winner of the 2017 Outspoken Page Poetry Prize. Her chapbook sugah lump prayer was published by Akashic books/ African Poetry Book Fund in 2017. She also edits Diaspora Drama, a digital platform showcasing international immigrant art.
a. 20,000 bones sit below Lower Manhattan, under what was once known as a trade centre.
b. Under concrete pillars, you can find anything. Allegedly.
c. 40 per cent of the bones belonged to children under twelve. All enslaved.
d. Property built above property.
e. 100 boxes worth of the enslaved, their belongings, were found in the North Tower,
after its decennium crumple.
f. A bruised string. Archivists speculate. It could have been a slave’s prayer beads,
inscribed with His 99 names.
g. My grandmother rolls each stone between her fingers. She too counts backwards.
Was my mother’s face a terror in the cockpit,
or a terror below it,
in the soup of mud and bitumen?
The skin of my elbows hangs loose as a murmur.
Sad girl litanies don’t pay the bills,
or undo our architectures of longing. This, I know.
I wake daily to a world that is romantically invested
in splitting me apart.
Don’t let me collude against myself.
Don’t let me believe I am what I am not.
He tells me to change the channel. He’s sick of watching bodies
that look like his own dying. Yaa rabb, it’s a fucking looped record.
Puffs on a shisha pipe, apple fumes straddling the lounge,
a sweetness that takes nothing from us.
I flip to the satellite’s distortion. A dubbed Bollywood picture,
Kajol’s icon unibrow
stitching, then unstitching, into a bridge
big enough to take us somewhere
a little less red.
;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;)
This time it happened after evening prayer. Qayloola.
Resting. Ice tea through sugared straws. The night a cascade ahead. Then,
a line break.
Hot spray of bullets and reverb and and and and and and
In less than thirty minutes, we/they/the land lose twenty of its children
A car is rammed into a restaurant, opens a bursting sun into a woman’s chest. Then:
a feed, a timeline, a breaking story
and every other way the expendable are condensed into character limits.
The unmournable die long before their hearts stop. Bless their gorgeous simplicity.
It is what it is. I pull inwards. Unwind my coiled gut. Check my phone.
A glass screen mists up in all the worst ways.
Remind me of when WhatsApp became an arena for condolences.
Sneakers lynched from telephone wires. Kerbsides of lung.
Unticked messages like a hand to the hob. Both got that amber tinge that wants me gone.
My father will reply in fifteen minutes, approximately.
A fifteen-minute window where I do not know if he is still alive or not.
He will thank God and his luck respectively. The wink emoji is his favourite.
He deploys it with no sense of irony.
;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;)
This time it isn’t him. This time it’s someone else.
Forgive me for always wanting it to be someone else
Heard A Pop & It Wasn’t My Heart (Praise Song for the Shoulder)
for the first bone
In the mood for an unhinging. Wear each bruise like a towel over the shoulder. Fat Joe’s gruff Lean Back eases me out of another day’s mourning. Slide. Roll off yourself like slander heard around town. The neck’s slow meander. Ball to my socket. Eskista Excellence. A shimmy to lend a sacral bounce. A man’s blade is the same length as that of a woman’s. The cage of pulse and lung remains another story. Grows wider still. A boy’s ribcage expands to accommodate this difference. This calcified arithmetic of dirt and dislocation. Sometimes cold. Sometimes not.
for the second
The man at the waiting room hasn’t been able to sleep from its pain. Ever since those Jeddah years. Days that made a mule of him. His back heavy with mutton legs & everything else once alive. His wife would boil the shoulders he brought in a bloody bag. Leave the jelly intact. It’s always softest between the joints.
for the last
Spit thrice over the shoulder if the devil interrupts your prayers. Three being a holy number. When visiting the cemetery, tilt the neck and greet the occupants. Assalamu Alaikum. If He wills it we will follow You soon. They will blow kisses back. Over each shoulder. He who leads the congregations tells us to straighten the row. Touch shoulder to shoulder. Feet to feet. Meet your brother where he ends. An angel on each side. Winged with pen in hand. Think, its infamous chip. A spinning plate of despair. Exit sign marked placeholder. Transverse flick. Can’t Touch This. Side-to-side wonder. Scapula bell and whistle. 360° twirl and drop. A ritual in rotation. I can’t give you the world but you can guess where I keep it. Lord, look how I carry it. Where it leaves its marks.