“Final Portrait of the Sudanese” by Dalia Elhassan

Dalia Elhassan


my parents sit side by side
in the half-light

two bodies, a half-world
away from me, singing

the way only sudanis know
how to.


shuf al-zaman ya yuma
sayignee ba’eed khalas

look at this time, oh mama,
it’s taking me so far

on the uptown 6 train
my father—in sudan

—calls to ask us how we’re doing
are you okay? how’s your mother?

my mother, in the bronx,
waiting for her children

to come home,
to learn her mother’s language,

i swallowed two other languages
before downing my own

gutted my throat
of any accent

spent years tearing
up maps of africa

trying to rub the sandalwood
musk from behind my ears

i don’t bother to learn
the songs my parents sing,

instead i write poems,
about our hyphenated bodies

about the frankincense smoke
dancing on hot coal

about their hands
that never touch

and all the ways
i hardly recognize them.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018
Tribute to Immigrant Poets


Dalia Elhassan: “These poems were born out of years of recognizing difference and paying close attention to the way the world functioned around me as a young Sudanese woman in the diaspora and the complex identities that live on my body. Growing up, it felt like the world I was most familiar with knew very little of Sudanese people or Sudanese culture, lifestyle, art, song, pain, triumph. Being Sudanese in the diaspora is an experience of being asked to identify oneself on a daily basis. My racial, ethnic, and gendered constitution has led me to believe in poetry as a space for radical change and transformation. This space fosters community, self-compassion, and the courage to mark one’s own existence. I have turned to poetry as a space to draw from and create my own reality in the face of oppressive structures and institutions that seek to take that power away from me. The only Sudan I will ever understand a connection to is the Sudan I can find in art and in poetry. Poets like Safia Elhillo, whose work is deeply familiar and feels like home to me, remind me often that the country I build in my poetry is the only country I have an allegiance to. Poetry blurs the lines between the political and the personal. Poetry speaks to and gives voice both to what can be said and what hides in the fabric of silence. In a poem, I can write my experiences into consciousness. I never want to forget or be made to forget who I am and what I came from. I never want us to think of ourselves, as Sudanese people in the diaspora and in Sudan, as a forgotten people. I never want to be ashamed of being Sudanese ever again.” (web)

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