Three Poems by Dujie Tahat

by: Dujie Tahat

Who gets to think of themselves as American is the question at the heart of these three poems by poet Dujie Tahat. They explore a crisis of identity imposed by outside forces wherein the right to be who one already is can be taken away, revised, erased: “It’s in a room like this I first learned/ desperation is the start of grief—”

wallahi

ours & mine will be just fine
& wallahi, someday I will find

my own mosque. Yaani,
God brings us closer

to Them in different ways.
Yaani, taking care of others

teaches us how to care for ourselves,
reminds us we’re still alive.

I made a cemetery of buried insects
& fish—the only pets my dad allowed.

I tied crosses out of twigs & twine,
struck them into the ground

near where they lay
just as dramatically

as seen on tv
& the side of highways.

My father must have
come onto the scene

thinking, Shit,
I’ve raised an infidel,

which is probably why
he made us pray

all five times a day
for a full week

in the middle of one
of our first summers in America.

 

deportation proceedings

are oppressively unglamorous.
Pews & pews filled with lawyers
& those of us wholly reliant
on their whims. What is it
they say about snakes
& promises? It’s no wonder really
that prayer fills the chamber. Mine are fading
pastels & bargled names & lately
more & more rosary beads.
We’re all praying for the same thing, really:
that the judge got laid last night.
We’re all pleading the same god.

It’s in a room like this I first learned
desperation is the start of grief—
watched it form in my father’s knees
& fall from his face
to the floor; my mother & sister
unfazed. It’s always dramatic
metaphor with family, but at least
it prepares you to stand alone before a judge
prepared for the worst. Every time now,
I make sure to clear my calendar
& I definitely don’t bring the children.

 

balikbayan

I swear  I could stuff a whole mosque into a balik-
bayan box—a cathedral, too & maybe even a white
t shirt & a pair of blue jeans or two. Ship it across
the ocean  as a testament to faith or  just because.
How  much   more  America  could  I  be,  mama?
Count up all this here rent money & tell me why I
shouldn’t. I  haven’t checked  the mail in  months.
I’m  eating  Frosted Flakes for  lunch  &  my voice-
mail is full. My taxes are overdue but watch me flex
&  they  still  say  I’m  un-American. That I’ll  never
understand what it means to overpour & overstuff
& over the edges of  the brim, beyond  what I could
even imagine, overstate
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++the obvious.

 

Dujie Tahat is a writer and political hack from Washington state. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in Cascadia Rising Review, Arcturus Magazine, and Crab Creek Review, and his essays on poetry and politics have been published in the Seattle Review of Books and Civic Skunk Works. Dujie is a fellow at the Jack Straw Writing Program and serves as a contributing poetry editor for Pacific Northwest literary magazine Moss. He’s been a Seattle Poetry Slam finalist, a collegiate grand slam champion, and a Youth Speaks grand slam champion, representing Seattle at HBO’s Brave New Voices.

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