Two Poems by Safia Elhillo

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

springtime, magazine street

i rent a room for two nights & nurse my bruised inner places     
nurse my small self    child-heart warped by leaving

warped by love spread thin      over phone lines    
seen only from above     from an airplane

my psychic tells me an act of love 
born of fear of being left      is not an act of love  

& i am made tender by hurting
tender city feet bruising on the ocean floor
my rented room on a street named either
for the hollow lung of a gun

or the glossy pages against which i measured my girlhood
studied the cursive shapes i could make my own wanting & wanted parts

& my wanting is an act of fear       the lover sleeps
& makes low purple sounds in his throat     & i think

i’ve made him up       the lover wakes to kiss my shoulder &
how do i know it is my shoulder       i watch the love happen

to me from somewhere above the room & long to take part
miss him until he leaves me or doesn’t leave me or goes back

to his cluttered sleep            i sit for hours in cooling bathwater
& wait for something to root     to rot or blossom or die without sunlight


fourth quarantine

i wanted to tell him a story about my heart
actual heart      & in this story it will not kill me
& the story will stretch out long & without edges
to unspool every day into a life we shared

                                           but in new york my fear of dying presses me
                                             for days into myself        sunless & hoarse
                                            presses me to my matted bed     i emerge
                                            blinking in the forgotten light    & descend
                                           into the subway    & maybe today my blood
                                         again will tire before its full rotation through
                                           my body     & maybe today i again cannot
                                            hold myself & melt as if i have no bones
                                                  only a stranger’s arms     cupped
                                                               to catch my spill                 

& if strangers make up the thin wall
between living & succumbing to my weary blood
then maybe i will not live     & instead i send my love
away      mourn him first then mourn myself

Photo of Safia Elhillo by  Dexter R. Jones

Photo of Safia Elhillo by
Dexter R. Jones

Safia Elhillo is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017). Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, and a Cave Canem Fellow, she received an MFA in poetry at the New School. Safia is a Pushcart Prize nominee, co-winner of the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, and winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. In addition to appearing in several journals and anthologies including The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, her work has been translated into Arabic, Japanese, Estonian, and Greek. With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me.