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—”
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
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.
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.
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
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.