THE MIGRATION DIARY OF HALA ALMASI
Fish would have eaten my eyes
if my eyes didn’t look
so much like fish eggs. Little black
dots suspended in jelly. My ovaries
are clumps of fish eggs. I will lay them
one by one in foreign toilets: Little red
drops between my thighs, curling
like ink in the water,
like smoke from your mouth.
Don’t ask me what it was like. I have no
similes for you. “But you’re a poet,
Hala.” No. I am like
a poet. I think a lot about what I have
lost. I wrap my head and hair
like I am still bleeding
from the ears. The face
it frames is not the face
I had back home. This face is just my likeness.
And that is where the similarity ends.
I have left a language
in the mirror over a cracked sink
in Kabul. That is why
left to right reads write I everything
in my head. Call it mirror writing,
like da Vinci’s notebooks: Women’s
beautiful severed heads floating
free among siege machines,
tanks, a giant crossbow … I was launched
by a crusader catapult
over the wall of your city. My head
with my tongue missing. My tongue
with my tongue missing. My tongue
missing my tongue.
stripping away, down,
bare. What does it mean when the white
man trying to enter me
in a database asks
Sweetie, aren’t you hot
under all that
The man on the bus who said
what he said did not see me. He saw
my average of 4.2 offspring. I am
a pomegranate refugee, a dirty bomb
full of placentas and human
shrapnel, a mama fly baggy
with maggots. I have imagined dying
continuously for the past
4.2 years, so it’s sweet of his
hatred to imagine so much life
for me, in me. I don’t know
whether to pat his hand
and tell him I like women
or point at the place where I
hunger and whisper Quintuplets.
First it was “Only a husband
will make you happy, Hala.” Now:
“Only a baby will make you
happy, Hala.” I will be happy only
if my body
sleeves another body. Ideally
a male one. If I fled in the heat
back home, I can flee
in the snow out here. In this new
country, I want new
blessings. May the icicles
in your mouth turn into
fingers. May the shudder
in your legs turn into
I rub my nose in old book smells
all day until 5 p.m., working
along each row of blossoms,
a systematic hummingbird.
Sometimes I’ll read one slowly
in a cushiony green chair and not
a single bomb taps me
on the shoulder
to inform me it’s time to leave
to close my life like a book,
like a whole library
shuttering its eyes,
for someone else to burn.
I have one friendship
that’s survived. One surviving
friend, I should say.
My husband worries
the internet will corrupt me.
If you write me about my poems, friend,
it may be weeks before I tiptoe
back to this account.
The risk is not corruption,
it’s corrosion. All this rain
beats the wife
out of me. My bronze
skin bruises blue,
oxidizes green. One day
I swear the rust will
lock my legs shut.
Faith means defending
with your fists and teeth
a name, a scarf, a particular way
of bowing to the ground.
And then neglecting them
after the mob moves on.
Switching your focus
to cinnamon pecans
or a pot of basil.
The faith whose child I am
is a child in my care. There are your toys,
God: Amuse yourself,
Mommy’s busy. My child,
demanding I oppose
and defy. Not
particularly wanted, really.
But no less mine for that.
The woman undergoes
the marriage. The woman goes under
the man’s last name. The woman goes under
the man. The woman undergoes
the parting of her seas so the man
with the staff can enter
her promised land. The woman undergoes
the miscarriage. The woman undergoes
the man’s war. The men say they promised
the women nothing. The country
goes under. The men put
the women on a raft and say:
Go. So we go. Some across, some
—from Poets Respond
September 9, 2021
Amit Majmudar: “A refugee crisis of our own making, a botched war and evacuation, thousands of people endangered: This poem strives to get beyond the abstraction of nameless Afghans leaving for somewhere from somewhere, and follows one specific individual as she navigates her new world.” (web)