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Safia (by Aris Theotokatos).jpg

Safia Elhillo




Summer of failed hairlessness
of clogged follicles inflamed 

In the afternoons I ride the bus
thighs newly bare & sticky against the seats 

Though I am not allowed, I wear shorts
I am left for hours alone

Light of the computer 
blue in my oil-slick face

Summer of danger
Summer of want

My body swells in shapes 
I do not understand 

I am hungry for touch 
& ashamed to be looked at

In the silence I know 
something is coming

The blood comes & comes
clasps itself to denim, to sheets

The afternoons are still with heat
humid as a strange man’s breath

& when it happened
I watched flies coating old fruit

Metallic layer of bodies, 
their frenzied feeding 

The long afternoon of my life, 
long life, long season of rot




see her: little cousin, little sister, sparrow-boned, alive.


i want to turn to firewood everything that hurts her.


i do not have the verbs for what i need for her.


i needed them myself & was not protected.


i want to make ash of this world that did not protect us


& from that nourished soil sprout one better.


at the kitchen table we eat a glutinous stew


with our soft hands, submerged to the second knuckle


& she is telling me a story & she is telling it quickly


short chirp of her laugh as she tries to mold from it the joke,


the old story of our girlhoods; the ways we haunt


the houses built to keep the world out, to keep us safe;


the ways we still were hurt; the ways we could not tell anyone


what was done to us; the ways we swallowed blame, smooth pebble


in the shut mouth; the ways we could not tell our mothers


when we needed them the most. i see her & i am fourteen,


i am twenty-two, i have been badly hurt. i see her, little mouth,


bare-faced & vulnerable. i see her & don’t know where to begin.


Safia Elhillo is Sudanese by way of Washington, DC. She is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), Girls That Never Die (One World/Random House, 2022), and the novel in verse Home Is Not a Country (Make Me a World/Random House, 2021). With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019)

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